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Merrimack’s Stimeling lets his play do the talking

Telegraph photo by TOM KING Merrimack's Zach Stimeling is not only a complete player, but also a complete student, top 10 in his class and a public speaker and leader as well.

MANCHESTER – Merrimack High School boys hockey coach Dan Belliveau was getting ready to talk to his team last weekend after a game, as he normally does.

Suddenly team captain and senior Zach Stimeling approached him, in a half-panic.

“He said, ‘Coach, I’ve got to shower and leave right away,'” Belliveau said. “He had to go to compete in a public speaking contest. … That’s the kind of a kid he is.”

Stimeling was hand picked from a public speaking class at Merrimack of all seniors to take part in a Rotary Club public speaking competition.

Stimeling said he did well, but perhaps his best talent is letting his play do the talking on the ice for the Tomahawks, as going into the weekend he has 52 goals and 51 assists for his high school career, 11 of the goals coming in this, his final season in Tomahawks blue and white.

“Stimes, which is what everyone calls him, is a very unselfish player and teammate, which is exhibited in his mix of goals and assists in his high school career,” Belliveau said.

“He’s fast, he’s physical, he’s a gifted player,” Alvirne-Milford coach Dave Thibeault said. “Kudos to (Belliveau). He’s got a heckuva player there.”

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Hockey, you see, should be a natural for Stimeling. He was born in Minnesota, a hockey state if there ever was one, and then grew up in Potsdam, a small town of close to 20,000 in northern New York, near the Canadian border. He was on skates by the age of two and playing hockey at age 4.

“I grew up with a lot of Canadian kids,” he said. “There is no other sport like the game of hockey. The fast pace, the unpredictability of every game, no game is the same. Every game you have to come dialed in, but it is the team aspect.”

His family moved to Merrimack when he was 11, and he jumped right into the New Hampshire hockey world and played club hockey with the Monarchs.

“I think my background really helped me,” he said. “It’s one of those games where if you stick with it. When you play for a long time, play for a club team, it’s really keeping with the sport. If you don’t give it up, you never lose your legs.”

The last two years, Stimeling has seen his body and game mature at a good pace. He came back this year 15 pounds heavier, now six foot, 173.

“My freshman and sophomore year, I was definitely smaller,” he said. “As I’ve grown, I’ve also grown in my leadership skills.”

But at some point he turned into a scorer. He had 25 goals last year in earning Telegraph Player of the Year honors, and this year has 11 about a third of the way in.

“I don’t know if he got a lot of playing time his sophomore year, but he’s always been a good skater,” Belliveau said. “He didn’t really come from out of nowhere as he has his 50th career goal. His sophomore year, maybe 25-26 points (15 goals). But he broke out last year, no question.

“That ability to go out there and take a game over is an intangible that every team needs.And we have it.”

Stimeling has played well away from the puck, which is a huge key in his success.

“If you look at him away from the puck, he’s always full speed,” said Thibeault. “You can see, looking at him, when he gives a pass he already knows where he’s going next. He’s giving a pass to get open. And his teammates are smart enough to give it back to them.”

“Everyone says that Wayne Gretzky didn’t play where the puck was but where it’s going to be,” Stimeling said. “So I guess I live by that. But I guess it comes with a lot of experience. When you play the game for over 14 years, you know where the play’s going to be.”

“You can see what he can do out here on the ice,” Belliveau said. “He’s just as good defensively as he is offensively. When he doesn’t have the puck, he ‘s getting to the areas where he needs to be to help us. … Comes all the way back, helps out with the breakout, goes all the way down, helps out with the scoring. You can’t ask for more than that.”

Did Stimeling ever envision himself as the scorer he’s become?

“At this level? I’ve always dreamed it would happen,” he said. “I mean, it just comes with a lot of hard work as well.”

Belliveau feels Stimeling’s confidence is a major difference between this year and last. “He knows he’s going to have a lot of people on him,” the coach said. “He came back a lot stronger. He grew, and he grew as a player and as a person. But he can break through some of those forechecks. His battle factor, that battle quotient, he’ll go in and take the puck back. Which was missing in some of those prior years.”

Stimeling has also excelled as a leader this year with a team that has 11 freshmen. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a kid who has been better at it than that,” Belliveau said. “He talks to the kids out there, he coaches them. He’s the first one on the ice, last one off.”

The future for Stimeling looks like this: A year next year of juniors, and then off to college in two years hopefully at the Division III level, maybe higher. He’s math oriented, and wants to study engineering. He

‘s top 10 in his class, and it’s not an easy balance between hockey and school.

“It’s definitely not easy to come home from a long day around 6 and then have three hours of homework,” he said.

Stimeling is looking to break the school record for 127 points. But he wants more after the Tomahawks made it to the Division II semis last year before falling to a strong Dover team.

“Definitely,” he said. “Seeing the team I’ve played with my entire high school career, I really want to see us win that championship. It would mean so much to me and my fellow players. It’s a big year. It’s such a big year.”

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Meanwhile, there’s the well-rounded Stimeling, who rushed out of the locker room last weekend, dressed and ready to compete in a different sport – public speaking. His speech was about how “technology is detrimental to society, how it’s making us less social and kind of hindering our physical development as well.”

“Coming from the game, I really couldn’t think about the speech until about a half hour before the game,” he said. “From coming straight from a game, I did pretty well. Didn’t finish top three, but not bad. I love to challenge myself. And public speaking is definitely a challenge. I’m not a big speaker, but it’s definitely helped me. The experience I’ve gotten from it is invaluable.”

Which is what Zach Stimeling is to his Merrimack team.