The first thing you notice about Will Messa is his infectious enthusiasm.
As the Matthews Arena Zamboni lurches onto the ice on a Tuesday afternoon, signaling the end of another Northeastern men’s hockey practice, Messa is perched on the outer edge of the rink sitting on a fold-out chair. He’s calm, collected, ready to talk. But his eagerness radiates as he begins to discuss his journey from South Florida to Boston.
Just two years ago, Messa was lacing his skates up as a junior forward for the team. But in his senior year at Northeastern, Messa made the gut-wrenching decision to end his playing career and join the team’s coaching staff. Now in the midst of his second year as Student Assistant for the team, Messa relishes his newfound position. He still gets to contribute in the Huskies’ success.
Messa started his hockey career in the most unlikely of places – Parkland, Florida. But soon afterwards, the forward made his way up North to attend Lawrence Academy in Groton, Mass, an hour drive to Boston.
“I loved Boston, the Beanpot, the Hockey East competition – all of it,” Messa said. “I wanted to be a part of it.”
Thus, after a decorated career with the Spartans, and a brief 18-game stint in Michigan with the United States Hockey League, Messa joined the Husky Nation.
He began as a redshirt freshman during the 2013-2014 season. But with 16 forwards on the roster and few opportunities to start in a game, Messa felt a few steps behind. Sophomore year was going to be his breakout, the season he finally got his feet wet. But a fractured collarbone the day before preseason games began and the 2014-2015 campaign was over as he knew it. When junior year rolled around, Messa was healthy. But he couldn’t work into a starting role and the Huskies won the 2016 Hockey East Championship.
“You accept your supporting role in that scenario because it’s about the team,” Messa said. “I wanted to do anything I could to help the team. The guys love you, because you’re a great teammate. It’s not your ability at that point – it’s your lack of experience.”
Another year of battling didn’t fit Messa’s interests. Already in a position of trust with his fellow players, and branded a great hockey mind by his coaching staff, his next move simply fell into place.
Since the 2016-2017 season, Messa has been Northeastern men’s hockey’s Student Assistant. After graduating in May of 2017, he joined Northeastern’s Sports Leadership graduate program, continuing his role on the hockey team.
His day-to-day roles vary, assisting the staff with whatever challenges a new practice, opponent, or game produces. Though he can’t work explicitly one-on-one with athletes, he’s on the ice at practice setting up drills and passing pucks. He’s become a wiz with the team’s XOS software, which incorporates game footage and special coding that breaks down each moment in a variety of ways. On top of that, there’s the traditional scout role, which finds him taking notes on opposing team’s systems for distribution to players.
Making the jump straight from undergraduate player to undergraduate student assistant wasn’t without its growing pains. Messa has had to pick up the positions duties on the fly and learned new software, coaching and scouting skills. Still, his dedication on the ice as a player is only matched by his dedication to his current job.
Messa’s best friends still play on the team. They remain close, but the relationships have taken on a new dynamic.
“The thing with hockey teams is that they’re not very big on outsiders,” Messa says bluntly. “This is a sport where trust between players and coaches is built over time. In that respect, my transition has been easier than normal. I’m here to help with whatever they need, but there’s that line between coach and player that’s more defined.”
As for the future, Messa isn’t sure that coaching is in the cards. He’s sure, though, that his future will be in sports.
His thoughts drift back to hockey and his work with the team. That’s just how Messa is – always focused on helping his team, no matter the role. He has high hopes for the current season.
“I think there’s a lot of optimism in this group,” Messa says. “I hope they’re going to go far.”
Then, he adjusts.
“I expect some sort of championship.”