John Habib's City Sports: Former Central star says to focus on the title, not on perfection
Manchester Central High is off to a 13-0 start in boys' basketball, and former Little Green captain Tyler Roche is watching.
Roche earned New Hampshire Union Leader All-State and Gatorade player of the year honors in 2006 for leading Central to a 25-0 season that included the Green's second straight Class L (now Division I) championship.
Now living in Boston and selling medical implants for Stryker orthopaedics after playing and coaching at Boston College, he's been following this year's Central team, largely by keeping in touch with his former coach, Dave "Doc" Wheeler.
His advice to his successor: Follow Doc's orders.
"I would tell each member of this year's team to listen to what Doc is telling them," Roche said. "He never let us get complacent, and he kept us focused only on the next game we had to play. If there's someone who knows how to handle pressure, Doc is the coach. He's lived it."
Two days ago in Manchester, the Little Green survived a scare, battling back from an 18-point deficit for a 69-60 victory over a Salem team that came in with only four wins.
Salem, a young team with one veteran sharpshooter - Andrew Ruffin, who lit up Simon Gym with 20 points - caught Central at a good time. The Little Green were coming off two emotional road wins against two of the top six teams in the division.
Central edged rival Manchester Memorial, 47-44, last Friday and followed up with another stellar defensive effort in a 47-37 victory over a tough Spaulding team in Rochester. With the game on the line, the Green blanked Red Raiders over the game's final 5 minutes 25 seconds for win No. 12.
Roche said that for all the talent the 2006 team had - all five starters, including Will Bayliss (Wheaton), Joe Fremeau (Bentley), Josh Last (Southern New Hampshire) and Bryan Tracy (Plymouth State) went on to play in college - it had its share of close calls, as well.
"We played two middle-of-the-road type teams and almost lost both games," said Roche. "We beat Winnacunnet (of Hampton) by one point and Merrimack by two points at our place. Those games were around this time of year, during the middle to latter part of the season. Believe me, it's a grind."
Roche said there are other similarities between his 2006 team and this year's Central squad.
"We had a target on our back the whole season coming off our championship season in 2005," said Roche. "We knew before our season started, as early as November, that we were going to get every team's best game. The same is true right now for Central. They now have a target on their back, and every team in the state they play from this point on wants to break their streak. Every team left on Central's schedule is going to treat that game like it's a state championship game."
Roche said Central should take the approach his team took in 2006.
"Don't focus on the record," he said. "Don't think about the record. Looking back, practice time was a big part of our season. We held ourselves accountable in practice. We'd come out and as teammates we'd push each other to be the best we could be. That prepared us for each and every game. We knew the pressure was going to mount as the streak grew, but our approach was to embrace the pressure and actually have fun with it.
"I can't tell you how many times we enjoyed playing away from home. We'd come out for warm-ups and hear their home crowd yelling and shouting at us. They'd try to intimidate you. What it actually did was motivate us, and nothing was more satisfying than winning on the road and quieting their crowd. That's what I mean about embracing the pressure. Have fun with it."
And, Roche advised, keep the eyes on the prize.
"Winning the state title is the goal - not the undefeated record," he said. "If going undefeated happens, that's great, but it's not the main goal. Even during our undefeated season, we realized we could lose any game. Luck and injuries play a role, which no team can control. All you can do is prepare for each game, embrace the pressure and hope the ball bounces your way."
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IT'S TOUGH to get a ticket to see the current Boston Bruins these days, but if you can make your way over to St. Anselm College Sunday afternoon, you can catch some B's favorites of the past in action.
The Bruins Alumni lineup for tomorrow's 1:30 p.m. game against the Crotched Mountain Wild at St. A's Sullivan Arena includes Rick Middleton, Terry O'Reilly, Bob Sweeney, Reggie Lemelin, Ken Linseman, Glen Featherstone and Bruce Shoebottom.
Rene Rancourt, best known for his pregame performances at the Boston and TD Gardens, will perform the American and Canadian national anthems.
Rancourt and the former B's also will be available for autographs.
Tickets are $10, with proceeds benefitting the Crotched Mountain Foundation's Accessible Recreation and Sports program, which provides hundreds of lessons each year for children and adults with disabilities to learn to ski, snowboard, kayak, canoe, cycle and hike with the support of adaptive equipment.
"City Sports" appears Saturdays in the New Hampshire Union Leader. Email staff reporter John Habib at email@example.com.