Jack Kilty just wanted to go back to his hometown high school.
He had gone the private school route, playing his freshman season at Catholic Memorial.
He had done the junior hockey thing, spending a year with the South Shore Kings before giving it another shot with the Oakland Junior Grizzlies, a Tier-1 team in Michigan, for a couple of weeks this fall.
Kilty, a forward, proved he could play with the best. But he valued proximity to his friends, the idea of grasping the moment, and a chance at redemption.
After being suspended by the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association for his entire junior year — the result of a pair of game disqualifications the season before — Kilty found his way back to the Medway High varsity hockey team this winter.
Eleven games. Zero losses. Twenty-one points. And one happy coach.
“I’m a big fan of Jack Kilty the person, and I believe in him as a player who has unlimited potential,” said Medway coach Chris Ross .
“He just has to 100 percent dedicate himself and 100 percent believe in himself — which, ironically, as good as he is, sometimes I think he needs to believe in himself a little more.”
From his coaches, from youth hockey days on up, there was never any doubt about Kilty’s talent.
“As far as a player goes, he definitely has some physical gifts that you don’t see in a lot of kids,” said former Boston University star Ed Ronan , who won a Stanley Cup with the Montreal Canadiens in 1993 and coached Kilty on the Providence Capitals from Squirts until high school.
One game with the Capitals, against a team from the Eastern Junior Hockey League, the 5-foot-11, 165-pound Kilty had dished out a firm hit, and Ronan sensed the recipient was itching for revenge. Kilty may not have realized it, but his instincts — one of the qualities Ronan raves about — took over.
As Kilty became the red dot in the middle of the angered aggressor’s sight, Kilty braced himself for a hit.
But he was hardly swayed. Instead, the aggressor was knocked to the ice.
“To see a kid twice-his-size go down in front of his own bench was pretty funny,” Ronan recalled.
“I’ve seen guys bigger and wider than him try to hit him and they’ll go down hard. I can count many times a guy thinks he has him all set up for a big hit and [Kilty is] just really strong on his skates.
“He’s one of the few players I’ve ever coached that can play two styles: He’s very much a physical player — he’s happy to play that way. But he has enough skill to play the other way.”
Kilty was all lined up for a career at Catholic Memorial, but after his freshman season, he decided to return to Medway.
His sophomore season, he put up 29 points. But he also collected two game disqualifications.
One of the penalties Kilty describes as deserved. He scored a goal, was whistled for unsportsmanlike conduct in the celebration, and muttered some unfriendly words under his breath. The official thought they were directed toward him.
The other, though, Kilty and his coaches believe was a fluke incident on a play that could have happened to anyone. Caught up in a chippy game, an official saw Kilty bump a kid into the boards and decided it was a flagrant hit from behind, earning Kilty his second ejection and a year suspension from the MIAA.
Kilty appealed, but heard no response.
“I think they’re a nonissue,” Ronan said of the suspensions. “He’s a physical kid and is playing above the level he should be playing it. You could easily hit a kid from behind and it not be your fault. It’s just the nature of the game. There’s not a lot you can do about that.”
With Medway no longer an option, Kilty turned to the South Shore Kings last winter, his junior season. Without him, Medway captured the Eastern Mass. Division 3 title before falling to Hudson, 5-1, at the TD Garden in the state championship.
Ross called Kilty Medway’s biggest fan during the run.
Kilty returned to Medway this winter, replacing the Mustangs’ graduated star of last year, Jake O’Rourke , who scored 44 goals.
“We got lucky Kilty came back,” said Medway junior defenseman Andrew Karlin . “We figured we could win the Tri-Valley League, go to the Garden and win it this time.”
Kilty had 10 goals and 11 assists through Medway’s first 11 games, an 8-0-3 start that included a 6-2 win over TVL rival Medfield.
Ross said this year’s Medway team has a lot of talent, but is struggling with consistency.
It’s been particularly difficult for Kilty, since most teams have shadowed him with multiple skaters.
“I feel bad because he’s getting targeted in a bad way,” said Medway senior Nick DeCristoforo . “He’s trying as hard as he can to get away from it. But it keeps following him.”
Kilty picked up a misconduct in Monday’s 4-3 win over Cohasset when an opposing player brought his stick high toward Kilty, who thought he was just defending himself with a hit, though the referee saw it differently.
“He let it get the best of him,” Ross said. “That’s been his biggest Achilles’ heel through his whole career. But he’s matured tenfold as a person and player since the Jack Kilty I knew sophomore year two years ago. He’s come along way.”
Ronan and Ross agree that if Kilty continues to mature and dedicate himself to his craft, he can compete at the highest level.
Kilty says that he has learned to keep his mouth shut, temper his anger, and play hockey.
“Sometimes kids succeed at getting into my head,” he said. “I try to tune it out but it kind of gets hard when I get frustrated during our games. I kind of had to take it. When I get mad there are ways I can turn it into playing even better.”
The good news for Medway is that Kilty has shown up when it matters. Against a Medfield squad he calls the best team his Mustangs have played all year, Kilty notched a hat trick.
“I know I have a good game if I’m nervous and wicked twitchy,” said Kilty. “That was a game I knew I was going to do something on the ice.”