Flaherty takes reins of No. 8 BC High

DORCHESTER, Mass. – Following their Catholic Conference opener versus No. 3 Catholic Memorial on Tuesday, first-year Boston College High hockey head coach John Flaherty said his team emerged with a valuable learning experience.

The 3-0 loss to the Knights wasn’t what the eighth-ranked Eagles were looking for on the scoreboard, but aside from the score, BC High skated with their opponent. Save for the stretch of a couple minutes in the first period, the Eagles were very much even with the Knights.

“In the long run, we’ll be a better team because of the way we competed against CM,” Flaherty said after the game.

Flaherty knows there’s a long way to go. The Eagles are young with seven freshmen on the varsity roster in addition to six sophomores. But there’s something to be said about this youth movement. The Eagles are fast and carry an enthusiasm which mirrors that of their new bench boss.

“I think coming into this year, there was nothing but excitement,” senior captain Mike Cashman said. Coach [Joe] McCabe did a great job with this program and he’s the best coach I’ve ever played for. But Coach Flaherty’s brought a new infusion of young talent. We have a lot of freshmen this year who can step in and get us to where we want to be and with the senior leadership we have, too, I think we can get it done.”

It’s been two seasons since the Eagles scratched the postseason, making a Super 8 appearance in 2008 after back-to-back Division 1A titles in ’06 and ’07.

But Flaherty is no stranger to BC High and the program’s success. He graduated from the school in 1988 and was a goaltender under Joe McCabe. He now works as director of the fund at BC High in addition to his new head coaching duties.

Flaherty also learned first-hand from a legend. He began his coaching career as an assistant on McCabe’s staff in 1992 and was part of the Eagles’ four Super 8 championship teams, in addition to a state Division 1 title in 1994.

“He carries a love and respect for the game,” Flaherty said of McCabe. “That’s what I always took from him.”

It was an old running gag among BC High’s assistants that it could be McCabe’s last year – year after year — and Flaherty wasn’t sure that 2009 was actually going to be the last of McCabe’s 22-year tenure.

“He’d always come into the season and say, ‘I don’t know if I can do this anymore,’” Flaherty said, “and it was because he genuinely agonized about tryouts. He agonized over cutting kids and telling them they weren’t going to play varsity. He sincerely didn’t like doing that.”

Before McCabe stepped down, Flaherty applied for the head coaching gig at Thayer Academy and was among three finalists for the job which included Thayer alum and former NHL star Tony Amonte, who subsequently took up the task. On the news of McCabe’s retirement, Flaherty was offered the title at BC High and he withdrew his name from the running at Thayer.

“I love this school,” Flaherty said. “My wife tells me that all the time. But it’s not just the hockey program, it the school, the academics, the alumni that I deal with all the time. It’s a great community.”

Flaherty admits not much has changed in his coaching responsibilities with the team. At the end of the day, hockey is hockey. But he’s gained a newfound appreciation for the paperwork and managerial duties that come with the title of head coach. Simply finding ice time for the school’s five hockey teams (from 7th grade to varsity) is a chore. But Flaherty’s focus remains on returning the Eagles to their perch atop Massachusetts’ ranks.

“We’re not that far removed from ’06 and ’07,” the South Boston native said. “We talk to these guys about it. We have a very strong tradition in our own right and we want to get back to that. We’re going to get better and we’ll be competing sooner rather than later.”

Flaherty is relying on his seniors to instill leadership among his young cast. But his veterans say the transition has been smooth.

“There are some differences, but Coach Flaherty learned from the best in Coach McCabe,” senior assistant captain Andrew White said before the Eagles’ Thursday night practice at UMass Boston. “He has his own techniques, but it’s still the same program.”

However, playing in the Catholic Conference means there’s little margin for error. For the strides the Eagles (3-1-1 as of Friday) made against CM, the loss still stings.

“Eight of our games are league games and that’s sixteen points up for grabs right there,” Flaherty said, “and there isn’t a single easy point in any one of those games. Every night you play in the Catholic Conference, it’s going to be a dog fight.”

While they’re one-down in the loss column, the Eagles have a chance to get right back at it against No. 4 St. John’s Prep on Saturday.

“I think with so many young players, it was good for them just to experience that atmosphere [against CM],” Cashman said. “We had plenty of fans here and it was a lot of fun. I thought we skated with them and it really was a valuable learning experience.”

White added, “The outcome obviously wasn’t what we were looking for, but we were right in it. I thought the second period was the best period we’ve played all year. That gives us some confidence. We know we’ll be alright.”