As a hockey player, Brian Stone was never the biggest on the ice, but he often was the most talented. As a coach, few could match Stone’s passion for teaching his players about the sport and life in general.
Stone, who played for and coached the Manchester Central boys’ hockey team, died shortly after playing in a men’s league game at JFK Coliseum in Manchester on Sunday. He was 51 years old.
The Manchester Board of School Committee held a moment of silence at the start of its meeting Monday night at City Hall in memory of Stone.
“His enthusiasm for the sport was obvious,” Manchester Central Director of Athletics Mike Wenners said of Stone. “The thing I’ll remember most about him was he was everywhere….He was a huge advocate of Central and an even bigger advocate of kids at Central, whether he coached them or not.”
Stone played for Central from 1980-84, winning a state championship and leading the team in scoring three of his four years with the program. After graduating from Central, Stone continued his career at New England College, where he led the team in scoring three times and served as captain his junior and senior seasons. He finished his college career with 173 points (59 goals, 114 assists).
Stone was inducted into the New England College Athletics Hall of Fame in 2001, the Queen City Hall of Fame in 2002 and the New Hampshire Legends of Hockey Hall of Fame in 2006.
Stone also grew up playing for the Manchester Flames youth program. Stone and his longtime friend, John Klop, who is an assistant coach with the Manchester Memorial boys’ hockey team, won national championships together as members of the Flames’ Junior C team in 1985 and 1986.
“He was always the little guy that nobody could catch,” Klop said. “Stoney was an incredible hockey player and even better person.”
Klop, who attended Trinity of Manchester, played against Stone in high school. They also coached together on Memorial coach Mark Putney’s staff for two years before Stone took over as the head coach at Central in 2012.
Putney and Klop helped the Crusaders win the 2013 Division I title by defeating Stone’s Central team, 3-2, in overtime.
“After games, at center ice, it was always an embrace — never a handshake,” said Putney, who played with Stone’s older brother, Stephen, growing up. “He’d always say, ‘That was fun.’ Win or lose, he truly loved being around players and the game of hockey.”
Stone coached Central through the 2016-17 season and led the Little Green to the Division I state championship in 2014. He spent this past season as an assistant to head coach Mike Connell at Trinity.
The Pioneers went 12-7 overall and reached the quarterfinals this past year after missing the playoffs the previous season.
Connell and Stone watched as Hanover defeated Bedford to win the Division I championship last Saturday at SNHU Arena in Manchester.
“He and Mike worked so well together because they weren’t the same at all,” Trinity Director of Athletics Chip Polak said. “They challenged each other in a good sense and obviously the kids really responded to that.”
Connell said Stone approached coaching with a good kind of intensity and had a joy for being at the rink.
“I look at it (as) he was more than a coach to the kids,” Connell said. “He was a teacher. He really was….He touched so many people and had a positive influence on so many young people.”
Trinity junior forward Eric Favreau, who served as a captain this past season, said Stone’s selfless personality affected everyone around him.
“I’ve been on the team for three years now and have never had a better connection with a coach than the one I shared with coach Stone,” Favreau said in an email. “He was a great hockey player, but an even greater man. I don’t think this year would have been so special if he wasn’t with us.”
Favreau and Trinity freshman forward Anthony Dizillo said Stone always told his players there are only two things you can control in life: effort and attitude.
“He showed us that through him that we could be good people no matter what,” Dizillo said.
While coaching Central, Stone often had his players volunteer in the city, including handing out turkeys at New Horizons around Thanksgiving. Inspired by Stone, Manchester West football coach Tom Bozoian, who has been friends with Stone since junior high school, and his players now volunteer at New Horizons doing the same thing.
“Although he will be remembered in the hockey community, his kindness reached outside of it as well,” Bozoian said in an email.
In addition to his love for hockey and giving back, Stone was also passionate about his faith in Christianity. He was a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and attended meetings almost every Wednesday with coaches from around the state who were members of the group.
“You knew he was a Christian just by the way he carried himself,” said Great Bay Community College softball coach Mike Vining, who serves as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ New Hampshire state director. “He always put others first — his team first, his family first. He’d do anything for anyone that asked of him.”
Josh Thibaudeau and Stone were friends for about 10 years, meeting every day at the gym at 5:30 a.m. to get their workout sessions in.
Thibaudeau also worked with Stone as an assistant coach at Central during the 2016-17 season and this past year at Trinity.
“He’s one of the most inspirational people I’ve ever known,” Thibaudeau said. “He knows the game better than anyone I’ve ever been around but it was also about the kids. He’d say, ‘We’ve got to mentor, we’ve got to help them because hockey is going to end but life goes on after that.
“He always preached attitude and effort. That was a big thing of his. They’re the only two things you can control in life.”
firstname.lastname@example.org; Union Leader reporter Paul Feely contributed to this story.