Junior hockey, especially in the NA3HL, has increasingly become an older man’s game. Players are more likely to stay until their age-out (age 20) year in the hopes of one last call-up, and college scouts increasingly want their incoming players to have as much junior experience as possible so they can make an instant impact when on campus. However, two St. Louis Jr. Blues defensemen bucked that trend this season, as both Joey Boccardi and Blake Dangos proved that being under 18 doesn’t mean you have to limit yourself to youth hockey.
Both Boccardi and Dangos are St. Louis natives who attend high school in the city’s southern suburbs; Boccardi at St. John Vianney, Dangos at Lindbergh. Both young men had excellent debut seasons manning the Jr. Blues’ blue-line: Boccardi scored 23 points (3 G, 20 A) and finished with a plus-minus rating of +40, while Dangos had 16 points (3 G, 13 A) and a +25 rating, The two also played in all seven of the Jr. Blues’ Fraser Cup playoff games, with Dangos picking up two assists.
“These are two guys, one of whom had just played on a 15U team [Dangos], who came in against 19, 20 year old players who are unquestionably bigger, faster, stronger than them, and they not only held their own but thrived in the junior environment,” said Flaugher. “As the year went on you could really see the improvements in their games across multiple aspects—physically, mentally, and in terms of speed.”
But what really defined Boccardi and Dangos’ seasons were the exceptional opportunities for advancement both players received through the Jr. Blues. “Both guys spent valuable time this year skating with NAHL clubs. Joey also got to play in the NA3HL Top Prospects Tournament up in Massachusetts, and being able to skate in front of hundreds of junior and college scouts has really put his name on the map,” noted Flaugher. As for Dangos, Flaugher added that “he attended the USHL Combine for draft-eligible players earlier this April, and has several other major opportunities coming down the road this summer.”
As for their future, Flaugher believes that the experience Boccardi and Dangos gained with the Jr. Blues last season will only enhance their value to higher-level programs. “Both Joey and Blake now understand what it really takes to succeed at that advanced level,” he noted. “They’ve gone through the grind of a full schedule, 20-minute periods, long road trips, and all the other hallmarks of a junior season. They’ve shown a lot of resiliency and grit, and that’s one thing a upper-level junior or college coach really looks for when they’re scouting players.”