John Habib's City Sports: Titles add to Central legacies
WALLY Tafe Jr. was at Manchester's Verizon Wireless Arena last Saturday when one of his former teams, Manchester High Central, defeated Londonderry for the NHIAA Division I boys' hockey title.
Tafe, who was the Little Green's coach for their previous two state titles, in 1980 and '81, said he was particularly proud of — and happy for — current Central coach Brian Stone, who played for him from 1982-84.
And, Tafe said, watching Stone behind the bench during all three of this year's playoff victories reminded him of how the younger coach performed on the ice during his playing days.
"As a player, Brian he was a big-time competitor who always wanted to win," Tafe said. "When he played for me, he had passion and lots of energy for the game. He'd come off the ice on a shift change and 10 seconds later he'd be ready to go again. Now, when's he coaching, I can see the same passion and energy he had as a player."
Stone would be the first to admit he learned from one of the best.
Tafe won five NHIAA championships during his coaching career, two in nine seasons with Central and three in 16 seasons with Manchester Memorial. He won 356 games in all, including a two-year stint with Manchester West, as the only man to serve as hockey head coach at all three city public high schools.
It almost goes without saying he's a member of the Queen City Athletic and New Hampshire Legends of Hockey halls of fame.
Tafe was especially impressed that Stone was able to lead Central to a state title a year after the Little Green's heartbreaking overtime loss to Memorial in the 2013 title game.
"Not an easy thing to do," Tafe said. "What Brian did was stay the course and convince his team they were good enough to get back to the championship and win it. They lost four straight games before winning their last eight. Brian got them peaking at the right time, and they went the distance. To me, that was impressive."
Tafe also credited the outstanding performance of senior goalie Ian Beliveau.
"He was my pick for MVP of the entire tournament," Tafe said. "I didn't see him play this year until the playoffs, but clearly you could see this kid wanted to win badly. In each of the three playoff games, he played with intensity. He plays the angles great and gives up few rebounds. There's no question, he carried the entire team on his shoulders."
INTERESTING to hear Stone say that as well-treated as he and his players were at the Verizon, he would have preferred playing for the championship at nearby JFK Coliseum.
"If you ask (Londonderry head coach) Peter Bedford, he'd say the same thing," Stone said. "Don't get me wrong — the Verizon is a great arena. But there's something special about a playoff game at JFK. The crowd is on top of you, the loud cheering sections are on opposite ends in the balcony, and it's just a great atmosphere for high school hockey."
CENTRAL boys' basketball coach Dave "Doc" Wheeler calls it the way he sees it.
So when he was asked which of his two unbeaten state champions would win were they somehow able to go head-to-head — this year's team or his 2005-06 squad — Wheeler didn't hesitate.
"The 2006 team would crush the 2014 team," he said. "Not even close."
The '06 team, he noted, included five players who went on to play college ball: Tyler Roche (Boston College), Joe Fremeau (Bentley), Josh Last (Southern New Hampshire), Brian Tracy (Plymouth State) and Will Bayliss (Wheaton).
"In 2006, Roche averaged only 20 minutes a game because most of our games were over by halftime or early in the third period," Wheeler said. "That team was loaded."
WHEELER was happy to learn that the man he joined as the only coaches to lead two Division I/Class L champions in the past 50 years is the late Frank O'Donnell.
O'Donnell coached now-defunct Bishop Bradley of Manchester to the 1963 and '64 titles, as well as a 56-game winning streak, and later served as an assistant coach at Southern New Hampshire University (then New Hampshire College) when Wheeler was a player there in the early 1980s.
"Just a classy down-to-earth man who knew how to coach the game," Wheeler said.
ROCHE, whose wedding is one week from today in Naples, Fla., found time this week to reflect on Central's 2005-06 season and comment on the firing of the men's basketball head coach at his college alma mater.
"It'll stay with me for a lifetime," he said of his senior year at Central. "The biggest things I got from that season were the friendships and relationships I made along the way. I still keep in touch with my teammates, and we still talk about that season. That would be my message to the 2014 team: 'Stay in touch with your teammates long after you graduate from high school, and always be proud of what you guys accomplished this season.'
"Finishing undefeated In Division I is no easy task."
Now a sales representative for Stryker Othopedics in Boston, Roche spent a year as a graduate assistant during Steve Donahue's first season at Boston College, 2010-11.
BC fired Donahue earlier this week after its third consecutive losing season.
"I just wish Boston College would have given him more time," Roche said. "I believe he's a solid coach who knows his X's and O's. I know his teams have struggled lately, but I can tell you, the players respect him. He'll land someplace else, and I wish him all the best."
"City Sports" is published Saturdays in the New Hampshire Union Leader. Email staff reporter John Habib at firstname.lastname@example.org.