It’s been a storybook journey from high school to the pros for former Hendricken hockey All-Stater Noel Acciari, and on Tuesday, he got to share his story with athletes at Bishop Hendricken.
Acciari, who is currently playing for the Providence Bruins of the American Hockey League, enlightened students of how the recruiting process works for college athletics, in addition to explaining his thought process when it came time to sign a professional contract.
The Johnston native, of course, captained Providence College to its first national hockey title last spring before signing with the Bruins, but the roadblocks that he faced before donning a Friar uniform were the focal points of his speech on Tuesday.
His overall message was that academics matter. He found out the hard way.
After playing three seasons at Hendricken, Acciari departed for The Kent School – a prep school located in Kent, Conn. – where he played two seasons.
Upon navigating through the recruiting process, though, Acciari found himself stuck when highly-regarded academic institutions such as Brown and Union said they couldn’t take him because of his grades.
Providence, too, was a bit hesitant to take him in because of grades, but Acciari worked hard in his final stages at Kent to prove to the Friars that he could handle the academic load in addition to playing hockey.
Ultimately, Providence and its coaching staff believed in him and Acciari enrolled at PC for his freshman year.
But that freshman season couldn’t have gone any worse. Acciari found himself academically ineligible. Not only could he not play the whole season, but he couldn’t practice or work out with the team either.
“It was the worst feeling in the world,” Acciari said of that freshman year. “There’s nothing worse than seeing your friends playing while you’re just sitting around waiting.”
But Acciari took that time to work harder than he’s ever worked – not only in the classroom, but on his own in the weight room.
And by the time the following winter rolled around, he became an integral part of the team, playing in 33 games and posting 11 points.
However, none of that would’ve happened without working hard in the classroom. Acciari wanted the kids to know that it doesn’t matter how good of an athlete you are because, if you don’t perform well in the classroom, you won’t even get a chance to perform on the field or on the ice.
“I’m glad I could come back to talk to these guys,” Acciari said. “Just to know that I was in their shoes just five or six years ago, I wanted to get the message across that it’s not just all athletics, it’s academics. I wouldn’t be able to be where I am today with just hockey, I needed academics too. I wanted to get that across – that academics is a big part in getting to where you need to be in life.”
Acciari was ultimately named a team captain in his junior season last year, and he and the Friars went on to capture the national title with a 4-3 win over Boston University at the TD Garden in April.
After that, Acciari had a decision to make. Because he missed that first year athletically, he earned enough credits in the classroom to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in marketing, but he had one year of hockey left if he chose to return.
He went on to sign a two-year deal with the Boston Bruins.
“After talking to my family, they just wanted me to get my degree,” Acciari said. “Knowing that I had my degree made the decision to sign with the Bruins that much easier. I know I’m not going to play hockey my whole life. Everyone needs a degree to fall back on.”
Living a dream
Not many hockey players can say that they’ve played high school, college and professional hockey all in the same state, but Acciari can.
Acciari is aware that the situation is surreal, and even he takes a step back from time to time to realize how fortunate he really is.
“After signing the contract with the Bruins, I sat back and was like ‘This has been a pretty good spring,’” Acciari said. “I won a national championship, graduated and then signed a professional contract. Everything has just kind of come together for me and I’m very fortunate.”
And he’s putting together a strong rookie campaign for the P-Bruins, really coming on strong as of late after missing about a month after taking a slap shot to the jaw.
Acciari has posted 17 points in 39 games and is currently playing on the team’s top line with a pair of players who have spent a good chunk of time in Boston this season—Seth Griffith and Frankie Vatrano.
“They’re unbelievable to play with,” Acciari said of Griffith and Vatrano. “My job on that line is to just get to the net and let them do what they do best with the puck, and I’ll clean up around the net.”
As an AHL player, Acciari noted that being a step away from the NHL is a bit of a nerve-racking experience, but he’s just looking to focus on his game and show that he has the work-ethic to take that next step every day.
“The anticipation is killing me right now,” Acciari said. “When I get the call up, you have to be ready for your chance. You need to have a good game when you get called up and do all the right things. But as soon as you worry about not doing well, that’s when you make mistakes. You just have to do what you do best and have fun with it.”
But for right now, Acciari is enjoying his time in Providence. After all, what’s better than playing pro hockey about 15 minutes away from where you grew up?
“It’s a blast,” Acciari said of playing in front of family and friends. “Being able to have my family come to all the home games, it’s special, not many people can say that.”