Kevin Valenti did more than just spend some time in the weight room during the summer.
“A lot of guys make a commitment to the weight room, but they don’t make a real one,” said Bill Flanagan, Valenti’s coach with the Hudson, N.H.-based Northern Cyclones of the Eastern Hockey League. “He made a real one. He gained probably 15 pounds.”
Valenti emerged from the weight room as a new player. After producing just two goals and two assists in 25 games while playing the second half of last season with the Cyclones in what was then known as the Eastern Junior Hockey League, Flanagan is the runaway scoring leader in the revamped EHL.
“You could tell as soon as he walked into camp that he made that hard commitment to spend that additional time he needed to get stronger in his legs and upper body,” Flanagan said.
Valenti, a 20-year-old from Queensbury, N.Y., said he spent two hours in the weight room each day, concentrating primarily on his legs, doing squats and slides. In addition to increasing his squats by 140 pounds, he added upper-body strength while improving his bench press by 80 pounds.
Flanagan could immediately see the difference in training camp. Valenti already possessed the necessary skill set, something he thanks his coach for reminding him of when he was not producing as a junior hockey rookie.
“He has that strength and the confidence now,” Flanagan said. “He’s believing in his ability.”
Flanagan predicted that Valenti would have a much larger role with the Cyclones this time around.
“I didn’t really put a ton of confidence in myself, but coach Flanagan gave me a lot of confidence early in the season, telling me I was going to be one of the guys he was going to lean on,” Valenti said.
EHL opponents have been unable to slow down Valenti, who has 27 goals and 29 assists in 29 games. He has six-game winning goals and has produced 14 points on the power play and four while shorthanded, showing that he is a well-rounded player — a “two-way player who can score goals,” as Flanagan describes.
The Cyclones have gone 22-3 when getting points from a stronger, faster Valenti while going 0-4 when he has been shut out.
“I think I was pretty quick last year, but it was more of getting knocked off the puck,” Valenti said. “This year, I’m a lot stronger on the puck, I can drive wide on defensemen a lot easier and definitely get to the net and stay in front of the net by just being stronger and a few pounds heavier.”
Valenti has helped the Cyclones to second place in the North Division and a league high 121 total goals.
“We’ve really gelling right now,” Valenti said. “We’ve got a real good group of guys. Everyone’s real close and everyone’s starting to understand their roles.”
Valenti’s role has changed drastically in less than a year. After leading the National Sports Academy of Lake Placid, N.Y. in scoring and remaining there as a post-graduate student, he opened the 2012-13 season playing Canadian junior hockey. Things did not go well there and, although he started slowly with the Cyclones, he was happy that he worked out a move to New Hampshire.
“He’s been vital to our team,” said Flanagan, who has used Valenti to center different line combinations. “I wouldn’t say we’re blessed with many offensive juggernauts. We have to get scoring from him.
“We have a real good power play, and he’s an important guy there, too.”
Flanagan said Valenti essentially “came out of nowhere,” but scouts are beginning to see he’s legit.
Valenti has strong interest in playing at Division III Utica College in upstate New York, but the possibility of emerging from this season as a Division I prospect still exists.
“Playing Division I is every player’s dream,” he said. “I’ve gotten a few bites. I’m the prototypical late bloomer.
“They need to see a little more out of me in the second half of the season.”
The Northern Cyclones and their high-scoring offense are counting on that.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.