Wednesday, August 22, 2012

UNH Recruit Jordan Masters: Back On Track

In the late summer of 2008, most 14-year-old boys were glued to their X-boxes, hanging with their buddies, and preparing to enter the 8th grade in their hometown middle school. Not so for Jordan Masters (DOB: 4-30-1994), a talented young hockey player from Rochester, New York. Masters was about to embark on a 350-mile journey to Detroit, Michigan to play for the Little Caesar's Bantam Major team in the highly competitive Tier 1 AAA Elite Hockey League. Moving to a big, midwestern city, taking up residence in the home of an unfamiliar billet family, and enrolling in a new school must have been challenging. But Jordan Masters had dreams of someday playing in the National Hockey League and this was the step he and his family felt he needed to take. NHL stars such as Mike Modano, Derian Hatcher, and Doug Weight once played for the Little Ceasar's (LC) teams. Masters finished the 30-game league season as the LC's second-leading scorer with 7 goals and 15 assists. In the 59 league plus non-league games, Jordan scored 28 goals and 30 assists. In their 5-game playoff run in the Michigan Amateur Hockey Association Championships, LC lost in the championship game but Masters scored a goal and overall, was the leading scorer with 5 goals and 4 assists.

In the subsequent 2009-10 season with the Little Caesar's Midget Minor Under-16 team, Masters was the second-leading scorer on the team despite missing 10 league games. His 15 goals and 20 assists in 28 regular season games tied him for 13th among the league's leading scorers. Overall, in 51 league and non-league games, Jordan scored 28 goals and 44 assists. At that juncture in his young career, Masters decided to try to make the jump from Midget U-16 hockey to the United States Hockey League. Although Masters had not been drafted by any USHL team, he was invited to the first tryout camp of the newest USHL franchise - the Muskegon Lumberjacks. In mid-June, 2010, the 16-year-old Masters tried out for the Lumberjacks and made the initial 35-player roster coming out of the camp. However, only 23 of those players would eventually make the active roster for the start of the Lumberjacks' season and Jordan still had some work to do.

In late June 2010, Masters earned a slot at USA Hockey's Select 16 Player Development Camp back in his hometown of Rochester. As luck would have it, the Lumberjacks' Head Coach Kevin Patrick was also one of the coaches at the USA Hockey camp and Masters ended up on his scrimmage team. Jordan took full advantage of the opportunity by scoring 6 goals and an assist in 6 games and finishing tied for 5th among the leading scorers. His performance earned him a slot on the 2010 U.S. Under-17 Select Team that travelled to Switzerland to compete in the Under-17 Five Nations Tournament. In mid-August, Team USA won the tournament and in the championship game against Germany, Jordan Masters scored 2 goals and 2 assists. Overall, Masters was the U.S.'s second leading scorer with 3 goals and 4 assists in 4 games.

By excelling at the Lumberjacks' Tryout Camp and USA Hockey Selects Camp and shining at the international tournament, Jordan Masters had pretty much sewn up a slot on Muskegon's roster for the 2010-11 season. In late August, 2010, Jordan had to pull up stakes from his billet family and school in Detroit and make the 200-mile journey to start anew in the Muskegon community. He met his new billet family at the beginning of training camp and enrolled as a junior at Mona Shores High School. On opening day of the 2010-11 season, Jordan was one of only three 16-year-old players on the Muskegon roster in a league dominated by 18 and 19-year-olds. He ended his rookie season with a respectable 4 goals, including a game-winning goal, and 7 assists in 49 regular season games. As an expansion team, the Lumberjacks made the USHL playoffs, won the opening round against the U.S. National Team Development Program team, then lost the second round to Cedar Rapids. Masters scored one playoff goal.

Last summer was the time Jordan Masters lit up the radar of NCAA Division 1 teams. Following his initial season with the Lumberjacks, Masters made a return appearance to the USA Hockey Player Development Camps - this time as an invitee to the 2011 Select 17 Camp. In the 5 games he played, Masters was the leading goal scorer with a remarkable 9 goals. He added 2 assists for a total of 11 points which tied him with UNH Recruit Mike McNicholas as the leading scorer in camp. Masters and incoming UNH Freshman Brett Pesce were named to the U.S. Under-18 Select Team that competed at the 2011 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Team USA joined teams from Russia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Finland, Sweden and Canada for the tournament in mid-August. The U.S. finished fifth with a record of 3 wins and 1 loss. Jordan Masters was the leading scorer for Team USA with 4 goals and 3 assists in 4 games. He was the 4th leading scorer among all players in the tournament.

This video shows Jordan scoring a shootout goal against the Slovakian team:

Dan Stewart, Director of Scouting for Future Considerations, provided this assessment of Masters' play in the Ivan Hlinka Tournament:
"Jordan Masters, a left winger, was the most consistent offensive threat in Slovakia for the USA squad. Masters was another ‘right-place-right-time’ guy who was able to score some big goals an overmatches US squad. Despite his lack of ideal size he went to prime scoring areas without hesitation and was rewarded with boatloads of scoring chances. His quick shot helped him become a difference maker while his grit and determination made him a popular teammate. Masters, who plays for the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the USHL, could have pushed his name into the draft picture with a few NHL teams after this performance."

In late August, 2011, shortly after returning from the Czech Republic, Jordan Masters verbally accepted an athletic scholarship offer to play at the University of New Hampshire. Jordan credited his family and Lumberjack's Head Coach Kevin Patrick in helping him make the decision. As one can imagine, Jordan Masters began the 2011-12 season with hopes of building on his first season in the USHL, preparing for college hockey, and attracting the attention of NHL scouts. June 2012 would be the first time Masters was eligible for the NHL Entry Draft. However, the Lumberjacks franchise got off to a rocky start which didn't improve much by mid-season. Muskegon lost 16 of its first 26 games. The Lumberjacks organization traded 2 players, including their second leading scorer and in mid-January, they fired Coach Patrick. By the time Patrick was dismissed, Masters had scored 4 goals and 8 assists in 24 games. He was on pace to double his scoring output from the previous season.

Masters appeared to be making the best out of a difficult situation in the Muskegon locker room and on the ice. Jordan was chosen to play in the first ever USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game scheduled for January 24th. The general managers of the USHL teams and NHL Central Scouting chose the top 40 players eligible for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. Masters played for the East team which won 5-3. He assisted on the East squad's second goal to tie the game 2-2. Writing for, Chris Peters (former communications coordinator for USA Hockey), offered these observations of Jordan Masters' play:
"Masters was a key player for the U.S. Under-18 Select Team at the Ivan Hlinka, and showed some offensive flashes in the Top Prospects Game. His single-handed effort to get to a loose puck and send a perfect pass led to Baillargeon’s second goal. Masters made it a gimme."

When Masters and the Lumberjacks returned to their regular schedule following the NHL Prospects Game, the team's performance did not improve. From Jan 27th to Feb 11th, Muskegon played 7 games and only won once. Masters scored a goal and 2 assists during this stretch. The frustration of some of the Lumberjacks' players boiled over at the end of 3-0 loss to the Cedar Rapids Rough Riders on Feb 3rd. With 31 seconds remaining in the game, Maine recruit Ryan Lomborg received a 5-minute Major penalty for hitting from behind. When play resumed, the game ended in a melee with 7 Lumberjacks getting Fighting Major penalties and Game Misconducts. Jordan Masters was not involved in this fight.

On February 16, 2012, Jordan Masters' stint with the Muskegon Lumberjacks came to an unceremonious end. In a brief press release, the Lumberjacks announced that Masters was dismissed from the team for "violation of team rules". Since that time, no Lumberjacks official has spoken on the record about what precipitated the dismissal of Jordan Masters. Jordan has not played in a competitive game for the last 6 months. As I announced a few days ago, Masters has decided to resume his junior hockey career this fall with the Jersey Hitmen of the Eastern Junior Hockey League. Throughout this period, UNH has honored their verbal agreement to provide Jordan a hockey scholarship. Masters has also stood by his commitment.

In the following interview, Jordan Masters provides his perspective on his one and a half seasons with the Muskegon Lumberjacks, his plan to play in the EJHL, and his commitment to UNH.

C-H-C: You recently decided to play next season for Coach Toby Harris and the Jersey Hitmen of the EJHL. What were the major factors that lead you to choose the Hitmen?
Jordan Masters: I had many opportunities to play in all the main Jr. leagues the BCHL, OHL, NAHL EJHL and other USHL teams. After talking with Coach Borek and Coach Harris I just felt like it was a good fit for me and my career. I looked at their program and what they expect from their players and I was very impressed with the organization and the coaching staff. From the ownership to the billet family, they have made me feel right at home - and I can't wait to get started.

C-H-C: Incoming UNH freshman Brett Pesce and Collin MacDonald played for the Hitmen last season and sophomore Matt Willows was the Hitmen's and EJHL's leading scorer in the 2010-11 season. Was that a factor in your decision?
Jordan Masters: Not really, I played with Brett overseas and knew it was a great program and like I said I just felt like it was right for me. I think that the way Coach Harris coaches will be great for my game and in turn I will be able to help to keep up the winning tradition in New Jersey.

C-H-C: Midway through last season, the management of the Muskegon Lumberjacks (USHL) dismissed you from the team. You have not had an opportunity to address the situation publicly. Would you like to comment on what transpired?
Jordan Masters: It is in the past and I am focused on the future. Muskegon is obviously going in a different direction and is just not for me. I still have a lot of friends there and I wish them all the best. Coach Patrick had a big influence on my career both on the ice and off and I wish him all the best at Vermont. I would not be where I am today without his help and guidance. I am very happy to be moving on and I am grateful for the opportunity that I had in Muskegon and now with the Hitmen.

C-H-C: Given your status as a top player in the USHL, fans of other league teams probably hoped that you would choose to play for their team this season. Why aren't you going to play for a USHL team in 2012-13?
Masters: I have had many offers from USHL teams trying to trade for my rights from Muskegon. The ownership would not release me or trade me. I am very happy here in New Jersey and I am focused on getting back to my style of play and putting up points. I think the EJHL has many great players and has had many great players in the past, and I am not hung up on which league I play in. I chose the Hitmen because of what they are all about not because of what league they are in.

C-H-C: Perhaps the highlight of your USHL career was playing in the USHL/NHL Top Prospects game in late January. What was it like to play in front of so many NHL scouts in that showcase game?
Masters: It was a great experience and I really liked it. I don't think too much about that once the game starts but it was a great experience and I am very thankful I was selected to participate in that game with some of the best players in the country. After playing two years back to back overseas in front of a lot of scouts, it was just another day and I have a job to do. So thats what I focus on in those situations.

C-H-C: 2012 was your first year of eligibility for the NHL draft. What route do you hope to take to make it to the NHL someday?
Masters: I have no control over what happens with the draft. All I can do is work hard and stay focused. If I don't get drafted in the next two years, I am not worried about it. I am planning on getting my education and winning a Championship for UNH. The rest of it will take care of itself. I am confident that I will play in the NHL someday.

C-H-C: This time last year, you verbally committed to play for the University of New Hampshire. What other colleges were recruiting you? What were the main reasons you chose UNH?
Masters: I had many schools recruiting me. My dad and I visited over 10 schools the past two summers before I committed. RPI, Vermont, Ohio State, Penn State, Boston University, Miami of Ohio, Colorado, Minnesota and some others. I have always liked UNH. My dad** took our Bantam minor team to UNH 5 years ago to play a few games, visit some prep schools and get a look at the school. So when I knew that UNH was considering me, I was excited and couldn't believe that I may play there. I have had two of our family friends go to UNH - Phil DeSimone and Greg Collins - so I had an opportunity to speak with them about their experiences. Also, my dad took me to a few games there to watch them. I am looking forward to getting to Durham and getting that trophy that has been a long time coming. Coach Borek and Coach Umile have been great and I can't wait to play for them and all the fans of UNH.
** Jordan's dad Charlie Masters coached his teams from the time Jordan was 5 years old until he moved away to play for Little Caesar's in Detroit.

C-H-C: Originally, you and UNH targeted the fall of 2013 for you to come to Durham? Are you still on track for that arrival?
Masters: I am going to work as hard as I can to be ready to get there and make an impact right away when Coach Umile needs me.

C-H-C: With the disruptions you went through in February, were you still able to graduate from high school? Are you on track to meet the academic requirements for admission to UNH?
Masters: Yes, I graduated from Mona Shores High School in Muskegon. The school was great to work with and they made the transition great. I had a great counselor, Mrs. Zack, that really took an interest in my future and I am very fortunate to have had so many good people in Muskegon, outside the team, that had a positive impact on my life. Yes, I have met all my NCAA requirements and plan on taking classes each semester this season.

The Jersey Hitmen open the 2012-13 EJHL season on September 21st against the Boston Bandits.


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