South Charlotte

Matthews hockey player follows his dream

For an aspiring hockey player quickly climbing the ranks of the amateur world, the South is not the best place to get noticed.

Jackson Tucker, 16, was introduced to hockey very young. He became a regular at Charlotte Checkers games.

The Checkers, the minor-league affiliate of the Carolina Hurricanes, at that time would allow kids into the dressing room, giving them autographed sticks and pucks.

Tucker was hooked, and his game quickly caught up with his love for the sport.

Tucker played on the local travel and club teams, including six years on the Junior Checkers and one traveling team that toured Canada and the U.S. with the Junior Hurricanes.

The Hurricanes program was one of the best in the area, but Tucker could not make the daily drive to Raleigh for practice. His coaches saw promise in his game, but opportunities for play were drying up.

"Other than the tryouts, I never really saw Jackson play until we got to Quebec," said Paul Strand, Hurricanes' youth and amateur hockey coordinator. "I can tell you this, he is a dream player. He can skate. He can shoot. He can play position and he works his tail off

"Jackson led the Carolinas Hockey League in goals at the Pee-Wee level with 48 goals and 27 assists in 20 games. That, folks, is incredible."

Tucker, who attended Porter Ridge through middle school, and his family started looking into alternatives to advance his hockey career, his golf game and his academic life. They found one: Avon Old Farms, a boarding school 785 miles away, in Avon, Conn.

"Once we stepped onto the campus, we knew it was the place," said his father, Larry, a Matthews-area attorney. "It is just absolutely beautiful, tucked back in the mountains.

"Then we found out the hockey team had won six of the past 12 league championships."

Tucker said, "It is hard sometimes being away from my family and my friends, and the winters are sometimes tough with all the snow, but it is great and I am excited to be going back for my second year."

While home in Matthews, Tucker works out and gets some ice time, but it is playing golf he looks forward to most. This summer he played the Matthews-Mint Hill Optimist tournament, carding a 74. He went bogey, double bogey, bogey on the last three holes to hold on for a one-shot win.

At Avon Old Farms, where Tucker was the second-lowest scorer on the golf team as a freshman, conditions are quite different than a typical September in Matthews.

"I shot a 77 in one tournament, which was OK, but the temperature was around 40 degrees, it was a mix of ice and snow and it was pouring the whole time," Tucker said.

Tucker is a talented golfer, but it is the hockey tradition that drove him to Avon Old Farms.

Six Division I college recruits are on the Avon varsity team this year. Avon graduates litter college hockey rosters, and Colin Sullivan, a seventh-round pick by the Montreal Canadians, was drafted while enrolled at the school.

"There is great exposure from college coaches, and opportunities are there Jackson could not get down here," Larry Tucker said.

"We miss him every day that he is gone, but it is a sacrifice we are willing to make."

Tucker was second in scoring on the JV hockey team during his freshman year last season, with 12 goals and 19 assists. This year he hopes to make the varsity team.

"That is my biggest goal, to make varsity, and to play well. Hopefully that will lead to some colleges seeing me. I also want to make the dean's list this year and consistently shoot 38 or lower in our nine-hole matches," Tucker said.