Higher Education

By Pete Choquette

Incredible size, strong skating, exceptional skill, and a winning work ethic; it would seem like formula necessary to be a high draft pick
in the NHL draft, wouldn’t it? But for winger Dennis Packard, a 6’5″ 215 lb. right handed shot from Kingston, PA, there were simply
matters more important than hockey. You see, Dennis Packard is not only a hockey player, but also a student at one of the most
prestigious institutions in the world, and he also was the 7th round selection of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2001 entry draft. How
could a player with such a coveted combination of tools have fallen to the 7th round? To answer that question it is necessary to
understand where Dennis Packard came from.

As a high schooler, Packard attended Wyoming Seminary Prep School where he not only starred in ice hockey but also in lacrosse,
which his brother Michael also plays at Harvard. He attended the Select -15 and -16 festivals representing the Atlantic/Southeast
region, and at 17, he left home to join the United States National Developmental Team in Ann Arbor, Michigan for the opportunity to
play with the best teenagers in the nation. In 67 games with the under-18 squad he accumulated 28 points, good for ninth on the
squad, and secured an invitation to the USA Hockey Summer Challenge team for Lake Placid, which played the Finnish under-20
team in a week long tournament. By the end of that summer Dennis Packard had not only cemented himself as one of the up and
coming players in the United States, but had caught the undivided attention of the Central Scouting Bureau, which rated Packard 3rd
amongst North American skaters in their winter 2000 rankings.

But that is when the story takes an interesting turn. Certainly he could’ve focused purely on hockey and left for some far flung
Canadian junior outpost, as it is the more traditional route to the NHL for young North American players. But Packard, who was born
in St. Catherines, Ontario, but is a United States citizen, had always looked at hockey as a means to secure entry into an Ivy League
school. So, by the time the rankings were released, Dennis Packard was a member of the
Harvard Crimson hockey team pursuing a
degree in psychology.

Unfortunately, that is also where the story turned sour for Packard, as he struggled to adapt to ECAC hockey. It took ten games for
Packard to score his first collegiate goal and when the CSB’s midterm report was issued Packard had plummeted to 61st amongst N
orth American skaters. He ended
Harvard’s regular season with a minuscule 1 goal and 4 points, and only a sterling 3 goal and 1
assist performance in the playoffs halted Packard’s slide. The reasons for Packard’s struggles are the run of the mill for college
freshmen: the adjustment to collegiate life, the diminished ice time of being a first year player, and the difficulty of playing against
young men in their twenties as opposed to the teenagers he might have faced in Canadian juniors. In the final CSB rankings ,
Packard stayed at 61st, and when draft day arrived in June, he had to wait until the 7th round to hear his name called. At the 219th
overall pick, after many teams had passed Dennis over six times, Jake Goertzen and the Lightning scouts rolled the dice on Packard,
who fits the prototypical mold of a Lightning prospect with exceptional size and above average skating ability (much like Nikita
or Evgeni Artukhin).

Some 18 year old’s may have been destroyed by the free fall from the ranks of first round prospects, but Goertzen and the Lightning
knew the odds were not too stacked against them with a player with the personal character of Packard. In August, he joined his
second USA Summer Challenge team scoring a goal in an upset victory against the Finns. This season with
Harvard, he has almost
doubled his entire season’s output of 4 goals and 8 points in all 33 of
Harvard’s games from last season by putting up 7 goals and 13
points in all 18 games this season. Currently tied for 8th in the conference in goals and 13th in points, Packard has been a key
reason that the
Crimson have taken over first place in the ECAC, 3 points ahead of Cornell in the standings.

A remarkably versatile player, Dennis is solid in all facets of the game. He not only receives regular ice time on the top two lines for
Harvard, but also sees significant playing time with both the power play and penalty killing units. The coaching staff at Harvard laud
his hands and fluid skating style as well as his remarkable intelligence and maturity in both offensive and defensive situations. On top
of these qualities, Packard also shows, as the CSB put it, he “.. is very agile for a player his size … has strong puckhandling skills
and works well in traffic … a good passer who effectively finds the open man … plays a very physical, but disciplined game … has
impressive size and strength and can deliver the big hit … a good competitor and a hard worker … is very effective in front of the net
and in the corners.” Comparisons to a more well rounded version of Chicago’s Eric Daze might not be out of order when considering
the man who wears number 22 for the

In his last game, a 4-3 victory over hated rival Yale, Packard contributed a goal and an assist. In four games this month he has 2
goals and 6 points, while the
Crimson have gone 3-1 in that span. On January 26th, he faces yet another key test as Harvard faces
off against the very same United States Junior team that spurned him for this years WJC. As he continues to settle into collegiate
hockey and ramp up his scoring don’t be surprised if Packard begins to figure more fully into the Lightning’s future plans. However,
don’t expect to see Dennis on the NHL stage for at least another two and a half years as he has gone to great lengths to point out he
has no intention of leaving Boston without his degree. But, when he leave Harvard Yard for the last time, he will be a much more
mature 21 year old, possibly ready for the NHL, or at the very least well prepared for the physical nature of the AHL. Whether or not
the decision to go the route of the Ivy League has cost him being drafted higher and the subsequent dollars that go with it, Packard
will still possess something equally valuable: a higher education both on and off the ice.

(**Corrections and retractions: With regards to my last story about prospect Eero Somervuori, the Lightning hold his draft rights
beyond this coming summer, however, given the lack of solid prospects at the AHL, I still believe it would behoove the Lightning to
bring one of the top scorers in Finland into their stable.**)

Lightning Collegiate Hockey Statistics (as of 1/22/02):

W Dennis Packard (Harvard, ECAC) 18GP 7G 6A 13P
D Paul Lynch (Maine, HEast) 21GP 1G 4A 5P
G Brian Eklund (Brown, ECAC) 9GP 3W 5L 0T 3.96GAA .883SV%