Boston is one of the great hockey hubs in North America and if you want to get a sense of how the city goes from grassroots to the NHL, just take a look at someone in the thick of the process: right winger Grayson Badger.
Growing up in the Hyde Park area, Badger first skated at two years old and played minor hockey at four. He played for the South Shore Kings, Cape Cod Whalers and Brookline high school before switching over to Dexter Southfield, one of the best prep schools in the area, especially when it comes to hockey.
One of the top New England prep talents eligible for the 2022 NHL draft, Badger has been a go-to player for the Boston-based Dexter program.
"He is all-out, all the time," said coach Dan Donato, who first saw Badger when he was with South Shore. "You recognize him on the ice because he impacts the game with his energy: He flies around and he's physical. He's very coachable, always looking to get better and when you talk to him, he's one of those kids that looks you right in the eye. He's not afraid to do the work. He's the guy that makes space for his linemates."
Two of his teammates are also up for this summer's NHL draft in centers William Hughes and Bobby Landry, while defenseman Sean Keohane is going to be a hot commodity for 2023.
Scouts love the raw potential in Badger and see a player with tremendous upside. Donato and his staff have been working with the youngster on consistency and the coach has no doubt that with Badger's work ethic, the energetic right winger will come through.
Naturally Badger grew up a Bruins fan, but he also liked Edmonton when he was a kid thanks to the Oilers' historic success dating back to the Gretzky days. Nowadays, he has his eyes on two NHLers in particular.
"I really like the Tkachuk brothers," Badger said. "They play the game with skill, but also a lot of grit and they hit. They play 100 percent all the time and that's something I try to emulate."
And while Brady Tkachuk played at Boston University, Badger is committed to one of the Terriers' local rivals, Northeastern University. He's excited to follow the Huskies at this year's Beanpot tournament (where they will take on B.U. in the final) and though he cast a wide net for college choices, Northeastern won out for a number of reasons.
"It was the same thing as with Dexter: When I stepped on campus, I really liked the energy and it was a place I really wanted to be," he said. "I knew as soon as I got there. As well, there was coach Jerry Keefe and his staff, plus it was an historic place. I was at the last Beanpot when they won the third straight; it's great history and I want to be a part of it."
Playing in Boston also means his parents will be able to watch his games, as will his grandparents (who live a ferry ride away in Martha's Vineyard). Badger's family have been big supporters and he does come from an athletic background with both his dad and grandpa being former D1 college football players.
But that's all in the future. For now, Badger is concentrating on Dexter Southfield and the chance to win a New England prep school title. The school has been a heavyweight of late and recent alums include Matt Boldy, Jack Rathbone and Ryan Donato, the coach's nephew.
"I feel like we've been getting better but still have a lot to prove to people," Badger said. "Our goal is to win a championship and we're taking that day by day."
Whatever happens, at least the team knows it will get maximum effort every time Badger takes to the ice.