Auburn's Zach Sanford (12) tries to maneuver past a defender during a United States Hockey League game between Sanford's Waterloo Black Hawks and the Dubuque Fighting Saints. A former Pinkerton Academy of Derry forward and 2011-12 New Hampshire Union Leader All-State Player of the Year, Sanford is committed to Boston College. (BRITTA LEWIS)
Former Pinkerton standout Sanford making steady progress in hockey ranks
Zach Sanford has more hockey to play this season.
The Washington Capitals, the NHL team that drafted him last year, and Boston College, the team for whom he'll begin playing later this year, wrapped up their seasons about a month ago.
But Sanford and his current team are still skating.
The New Hampshire Union Leader All-State Player of the Year as a junior at Pinkerton Academy of Derry two years ago, Sanford is now a forward with the Waterloo (Iowa) Black Hawks of the United States Hockey League, the country's top junior circuit.
Waterloo opened its Clark Cup Final series for the USHL championship this weekend against the visiting Indiana Ice, with Game 3 of the best-of-five series scheduled for this Friday in Indiana.
Sanford - a 6-foot, 4-inch, 195-pound forward - began the Clark Cup Final with 17 goals and 18 assists for 35 points and a plus/minus rating of plus-15.
It's been one more step up the ladder from Pinkerton to the Eastern Junior Hockey League to the USHL and on to BC before he climbs the ultimate rung - the one leading to the NHL.
"Not just me, but every kid who plays hockey wants to play in the NHL someday," said Sanford, who was selected by the Washington Capitals in the second round of last year's NHL Entry Draft, the 61st player chosen overall.
"It was an honor to be drafted by the Capitals, and I'm motivated to prove they made a good choice."
An Auburn native whose family now lives in Manchester, Sanford knows he needs to work on developing his skills and body before he's ready to play professionally.
"I have to stay in the moment, work hard to get better and just enjoy playing the game," he said.
He's done that every step of the way so far, including at Pinkerton, where he led the Astros to the 2012 NHIAA Division I title, totaling 36 goals and 33 assists for a team that went went 19-2.
More than ready to play at a higher level, Sanford spent his senior year playing junior hockey with the Middlesex Islanders of the EJHL, for whom he totaled 12 goals and 24 assists in 37 games.
That performance earned him a place on the next rung - in the USHL.
And with seven points (2 goals, 5 assists) in seven playoff games entering the weekend, it appears he's ready to continue his ascent.
"It's been fun, and the USHL is really a solid league," Sanford said. "The toughest adjustment I had to make off the ice was moving away from home. But my teammates have been great, and they make it fun to come to practice each day. Once I got settled in, I was able to concentrate on my game. The pace is quicker, which is good because it's preparing me for college."
At Boston College, Sanford is expected to contribute immediately to a program that has won four national championships in the past 14 seasons under head coach Jerry York.
"It's a great program, a championship program, and Coach York and his staff do a great job developing players there," Sanford said.
Neverthelesss, before choosing BC, he said, he seriously considered a scholarship offer from University of New Hampshire coach Dick Umile.
"Coach Umile made an impression on me and my family," Sanford said. "UNH has a great program, too, but in the end I had to make a decision for academics and athletics and chose the Eagles."
First, he has some unfinished business to take care of with Waterloo.
"This is preparing me for Boston College in many ways," Sanford said. "I've gotten the experience of playing regular-season games, playoff games and before 2,500 fans at all our home games. The support I'm getting here and back home from my parents and friends has been great. I'm really enjoying this season, and I'm looking forward to playing in the Hockey East next fall."