Only a few months removed from Harvard’s campus, many of Max Everson’s old classmates already are a few rungs up the ladder.
“It’s a big range,” he said. “A lot of people have gone into start-ups, big and small. … Plenty of guys and girls that I know are doing finance matters in lower New York. I had a couple friends go to Goldman Sachs, BlackRock, the big financial places.”
And you are riding the bus to Fort Wayne?
Cue the electric smile. Everson knows better than most that the pipeline to the NHL does not pass through the Ivy League, but nevertheless he has landed in Duluth, where he is halfway though his rookie season with the Atlanta Gladiators. A 200-pound left-handed defenseman, he also is two half-courses shy of a degree in economics.
Which he said he will complete next summer. Until then, he is immersed in his first pro season — Harvard plays 35 or so games a year; an ECHL seasons span 72 games plus the playoffs — and the transition is pretty graphic.
“There’s a lot that goes into adapting to the pro game,” said Andy Brandt, who doubles as the Gladiators’ coach and general manager. “It’s a little different pace, which it has to be with the number of games. There’s more thought that goes into the pro game. There’s more jousting amongst coaches and systems. But as far as the skill set — can he skate? can he pick men up? can he shoot? — absolutely.
“He’s got those skills to get to the next level or beyond.”
Perhaps Harvard’s most famous hockey player wasn’t really a player. He wasn’t even a real person. Oliver Barrett IV, the tragic protagonist in Erich Segal’s “Love Story,” portrayed the earnest Crimson scholar-athlete who got the girl, even if he couldn’t beat Cornell. That profile is as dated as it is wrong.
The Ivy League actually competes within the ECAC, a powerful 12-team league that comprises one of the country’s five Division I hockey programs. Five ECAC schools are ranked in the top 20, including No. 2 Quinnipiac. Ivies have won the NCAA championship just four times since it was first staged in 1948, but Yale did the trick two years ago and this year, Harvard (No. 7) and Cornell (No. 8) are solid top-10 entries.
This season, there are 19 Ivy League alumni playing in the NHL, a number that has remained constant over the past five years. Everson is no curio in the Gladiators locker room. Fellow defenseman Joe Stejskal was a Dartmouth finance major. Last year, not only was Everson’s older brother Marshall, another Harvard guy, on the roster but so was Will MacDonald, who grew up in Alpharetta and held an mechanical and aerospace engineering degree from Princeton. Really.
“I think the reason why (the Ivy profile has grown) is players are starting to understand the importance of an education,” Brandt said. “I think that going to a quote-unquote hockey powerhouse school is taking a little bit of a backseat because guys are seeing they can go Ivy League schools or top-notch schools and get their education paid for.”
That Everson’s synopsis. His strong academic record at Edina (Minn.) High School drew early interest across the Ivies and by midway through his senior season, he generated a host of scholarship offers — except one that he sought most: Minnesota. The Gophers have produced 18 first-round draft picks over the past 35 years. In the past five seasons, 23 Gophers have played in the NHL.
But when the Minnesota offer finally arrived, the decision wasn’t so complicated after all. Sit on Minnesota’s bench for a couple of seasons until his time came or go to Boston and play immediately with his brother.
“Then I saw a whole lot of good recruits going there, so I figured the better the team is, it’s not going to matter the history (in the NHL) of who has come out of Harvard,” Everson said. “It’s a matter of how much better the team gets.”
Last season, the Crimson, with Everson a team captain, won the ECAC tournament. The Boston Bruins noticed, acquired his rights and within weeks, he was a Gladiator, playing at hockey’s Class AA level. Cambridge it’s not. The ECHL is a far-flung, 24-team league spanning from Alaska to Orlando, Fla. The travel can be brutal, the job security is risky and the NHL is in a galaxy far, far away.
“I think for all of these guys, to go after that dream for one or two years and see where it may take them is important,” Brandt said. “I think guys that don’t do it, at the end of the day, kind of ask themselves: ‘What if?’”
So while his old classmates are in the process of becoming corporate titans, Harvard’s Max Everson, No. 4 in your program, was out there Tuesday afternoon plying his trade in Greenville against the Swamp Rabbits. Surely he must often ask himself what in the world is he doing.
“Not really,” he said. “I definitely think about opportunities from an economic standpoint in all the decisions I make, just because it’d be stupid not to. But I’m 22 years old still. I don’t feel like I’m in the wrong place. I love playing. I love being with the team. Not only is it a very rare opportunity, (but) how many people do I know would kill to be where I am?
“But I’m having a blast.”