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Division I dreams right on track for big, skilled JM defenseman Veney

JT Veney played with some of the state's best high school hockey players this fall in the Upper Midwest Elite League. The John Marshall junior defenseman more than held his own, drawing the attention of more than a half-dozen Division I college coaches.

John Marshall vs. Highland Park Boys Hockey
John Marshall defenseman JT Veney controls the puck during a game last season against St. Paul Highland Park. Veney played in the Upper Midwest High School Elite League this fall and drew considerable interest from college coaches and scouts.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin file photo
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JT Veney spent the fall playing hockey with and against dozens of future Division I players.

By all accounts, Veney not only held his own, but stood out among many of Minnesota’s best high school players — and for more reasons than just his 6-foot-6, 195-pound frame.

It was an environment where the perpetually smiling John Marshall junior defenseman found a physical edge to his play, and where he couldn’t help but fit right in and grow his all-around game.

“It was really fun, playing on a team with a bunch of Minnetonka kids,” Veney said. “They’re all funny guys, fun to be around. They never talked about themselves, about being better than anyone. They were just fun to be around and play on a team with.”

Veney finished the fall season with a goal and five assists (as well as 16 penalty minutes) in 19 games. He was at his best in the Elite League playoffs, when he averaged a point per game, playing alongside such teammates as Minnetonka’s John Stout (Minnesota-Duluth commit) and Javon Moore (Minnesota commit).

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“It helped me improve my defense; it was a fast pace. Every team had six or seven D-I kids, so it was really competitive. It helped my confidence a lot. I just have to take that style of play from the Elite League and bring it to the high school season.”

Veney has had more than a half-dozen Division coaches/scouts reach out to him this fall. He’s eligible to commit to a college whenever he chooses to, but the recruiting process will be put on the back burner — held to a slow simmer, at most — for the time being.

Many players in Veney’s skates wouldn’t hesitate to bolt the high school game in favor of junior hockey. But that has never been his plan. When he says he loves playing with this group of Rockets — a group that grew up playing together — he means it. And while he’s looking to build on his 17-goal, 25-point season as a sophomore last year, Veney wants nothing more than to enjoy his junior season of high school hockey.

Odds are, he won’t be back in red and black during his senior year, though he hasn’t entirely closed the door on that possibility. He has goals that involve only the guys he goes to school with and laughs and jokes with in the Rockets’ Rochester Recreation Center locker room every day.

“I just want to have fun playing one more year with these guys,” he said. “I want it be a better year than I’ve had and we’ve had before. High school hockey is so much fun. I want to make it to the (Section 1AA) semifinals and get a chance to play a playoff game here (at the Rec Center).”

Veney is in great hands with the Rockets. JM’s coaching staff — head coach Matt Erredge and assistants Pete Moehnke and Brady Dahl — excel at getting the most out of their players, while keeping an eye on players’ future goals. It’s a balancing act for a team that will have exactly the right amount of players to fill a lineup on a nightly basis, 18 skaters and two goalies. With inevitable injuries and illnesses, there will likely be nights where the Rockets field a lineup of a fewer than 20 players.

“Part of our job with JT is to get him ready for whatever his next adventure will be,” said Erredge, an Austin native who played college hockey at St. John’s, prior to four years of pro hockey. “I feel obligated to play him in the situations he needs to play in, but we also need to keep in mind his game for the coming years, his future.

“We won’t play him so much that he’s so tired and doesn’t have the ability to work on his game. … He needs to make the plays that may not make the paper or the Twitter feed, and he’ll make those plays because he’ll have a lot of eyes on him this year.”

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Veney’s best attributes are his seemingly effortless ability to skate and move, as well as his hands. His coaches would like to see him use his size to his advantage more often and Erredge pointed out that, as a captain, Veney has a great opportunity this season to continue to develop as a leader.

“Who knows, he may not get a chance to be a captain again until he’s 20 or 21 or 23,” Erredge said. “This is his time to have that leadership on his back. He’s a great kid; he has that leadership in his DNA.

“JT’s learning how to lead kids who maybe aren’t at the same level of competitiveness as he is or maybe don’t have quite the same drive that he does. He’s done a good job so far and we know he’s a guy who is always going to be there for the team, getting the guys going.

“He’s just a great, likable kid.”

Jason Feldman is the sports editor of the Post Bulletin. In addition to managing the four-person sports staff at the PB, Jason covers high school football, golf and high school and junior hockey. Readers can reach Jason at 507-281-7430 or jfeldman@postbulletin.com.
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