After they made 19-year-old Derek Geary their sixth-round draft choice last year, the National Hockey League’s Boston Bruins invited the high-scoring center from Phillips (Andover) Academy to their Christmas banquet to show what he could do. Geary wowed them. Sitting down at the keyboard, he warmed up with a little Elton John, then moved into his own eclectic jazz compositions, finishing with “Reverie in Purple,” which he wrote when he was 15. “It’s my Opus 1,” he says proudly.
A clever passer, the 6’3″, 180-lb. Geary is a genuine NHL prospect. “He has got good hands, on-ice intelligence and a good feel for the game,” says Bruins general manager Harry Sinden. “He has got a reasonably good chance to make it.” Geary’s composition teacher agrees. “Derek has great promise,” says John Heiss of the New England Conservatory of Music. “His music has a lot of imagination, feeling and character. There’s a power underneath.” Geary appreciates Bach as well as Bono, but his idol is pianist Keith Jarrett: “If I ever have rhythm like his, I’ll be very happy.”
Son of a radiologist father and a mother who is a stress-management counselor, Geary grew up in Gloucester, Mass. He took up hockey at age 5, the piano at age 7. After graduating from Gloucester High, he decided to spend a postgraduate year at nearby Andover to ponder his problematical either/or. He still hasn’t decided. “I love hockey,” he says. “But I also want to make a living playing music. If that means Carnegie Hall, great. If that means a smoke-filled dive, that’s okay too.”
Geary will give a farewell concert on May 19, then start summer hockey. He is used to spending two to three hours a day at the keyboard and another two or three on the ice. “I get about five or six hours of sleep a night if I’m lucky,” he says. “It’s such a challenge to keep up the two things at a high level.” (He also plays varsity tennis.) For several months, Geary had an unwelcome respite from hockey, the result of a right hand he broke in a game and which has had little effect on his piano playing. The prospect of further injury may make his instructors wince, but Geary won’t let it stand in his way. “Part of being an athlete is physical contact,” he says. “It’s no reason to stop playing.”