Boston High School: Shawn McEachern

Prep schoolers help Team USA on golden path

February, 20, 2014
Feb 20
Belmont Hill’s Claflin Athletic Center was filled to the brim. The crowd ran several deep around the boards as the United States Women’s National Team skated against the Rivers School’s boys’ varsity team.

It was a month to the date before the Stars and Stripes would skate against nemesis Canada for Olympic gold again in Sochi, but Katey Stone’s team was there to get better. They claimed a 3-0 victory, leaving their opponents amazed at their combination of speed and precision passing.

“There were more people than usual, but we took it like any other game – or at least tried to,” Rivers defenseman Miles Gendron said. “Once you looked past the ‘U.S.A.’ on their jerseys, we went out there and wanted to win.

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Michael Dwyer/Dexter SchoolTeam USA has five Massachusetts natives, in addition to five players who played at Boston College, Harvard and Northeastern.
“But they’re just good – really good.”

The game was part of a five-game tour of New England prep schools Stone and her staff put together in preparation for the Sochi games. On the whole, the games were back-and-forth, with Salisbury School (Conn.) and Dexter claiming victories over the soon-to-be Olympians. In return, Team U.S.A. claimed victories over Taft School (Stone’s alma mater) and St. Sebastian’s, in addition to the Rivers game.

USA Hockey had attempted the same kind of scrimmages before the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, seeking out high school teams in Minnesota to no avail, as the teams had already scheduled to capacity, with a state mandate of no more than a 25-game schedule. Then Team USA head coach Mark Johnson told The New York Times in 2010 that the top-tier boys’ high school teams were the closest approximation available to replicating the team speed of the Canadian National Team – the current three-time reigning Olympic gold medalists.

But there’s another advantage the Canadians held before the Vancouver games, that is its pre-Olympics schedule. It has been a longstanding custom that Hockey Canada installed a schedule featuring boys’ midget team to go toe-to-toe as a means of preparation.

In the past, USA Hockey had played the nation’s top women’s collegiate teams – with predictably one-sided results.

With the Women’s National Team training in and around Boston this year, assistant coach Bobby Jay, a Burlington native and former Harvard hockey assistant, set about finding open dates with the area’s top boys' prep school programs.

The result was a challenge for USA Hockey. Salisbury is the reigning NEPSAC Elite 8 tournament champion, while Dexter has been among New England’s top scoring sides this year. Rivers recently wrapped up the ISL’s Eberhart Division championship for this season.

“We have a pretty fast team, so I think it was good for them to skate against a competitive, fast team,” Dexter head coach Dan Donato said. “We do some things that they were excited to play against, like being able to stretch play on the breakout.”

While bringing the women’s team’s tune-ups to New England, many of the members returned to their roots. Team USA features five Massachusetts natives in captain Meghan Duggan (Danvers), Kacey Bellamy (Westfield), Alex Carpenter (North Reading), Michelle Picard (Taunton) and Molly Schaus (Natick). In addition, five team members played collegiately in Boston, representing Boston College, Harvard and Northeastern.

It’s a reflection of the thriving hockey community in the Commonwealth.

“There are a ton of kids playing [in the state],” Rivers head coach and former Olympian Shawn McEachern said. “Playing them and seeing Bobby Carpenter’s daughter [Alex] out there on the wing – I remember watching Bobby play and got to play against him in the NHL – you see players of that talent and there’s been plenty of them that have come through the state.”

For McEachern, a product of Matignon High School and Boston University, the experience conjured memories of his childhood, far before his own Olympic experience in 1992, when Team USA’s college-derived roster placed fourth.

“Growing up, as a kid, I came from the 1980 Olympic era and saw Mike Eruzione score that goal,” said McEachern, who played with Donato’s brother, Ted, in Albertville, France. “You always wanted to have that opportunity to play for the US – not just at the Olympics, but at any event, playing for your country’s a special feeling.”

And, for the game’s next generation, it was just one taste of what might soon be theirs.

“It’s a big honor to play against them,” said Gendron, who is ranked 85th among North American skaters in the NHL’s 2014 Draft midterm report. “Seeing the USA jersey, that’s just a cool experience.”

McEachern charts new course for Rivers

January, 27, 2011
WESTON, Mass. -- It’s picture day for the Rivers School boys’ hockey team and teammates are horsing around between their individual shots and the finale — the group shot. First-year Red Wings head coach Shawn McEachern is waiting for the festivities to wrap up and jump in for the team photo at MacDowell Arena.

He leans forward, putting his weight on stick and says, “They’re funny.”

His young Rivers team is 8-9-0 (as of Thursday) and he’s satisfied with effort they’ve given while taking to a new style of play.

But mostly, the Waltham native and 13-year NHL veteran is having fun with this group.

“When it’s time to work, these guys get after it, but they’re able to laugh and have some fun,” McEachern said. “They’re good kids and they’re fun to be around. It keeps you young. It’s a blast to be around kids this age.”

McEachern retired in 2006, following his second stint with the Bruins. He always knew he wanted to coach when his playing career was over and the former Matignon great jumped right into his new career passion, taking assistant coaching jobs in Hockey East with Northeastern and UMass-Lowell, in addition to a stint at Salem State University.

He is one of three former Boston University Terriers and ex-NHLers to join the ISL’s coaching ranks this year, along with Tony Amonte at Thayer and Scott Young at St. Mark’s. McEachern’s new gig behind the bench at Rivers is his first at the high school/prep level and he inherited a team that hasn’t finished with a double-digit win tally since the 2004-05 season. So it’s a challenge.

“I just want them to grow,” said McEachern who also works under Jim McNally as the assistant director of athletics at Rivers. “I don’t want to set long-term goals on winning any certain number of games or anything like that. We just want to come out here every day and get better.”

The Red Wings have four freshmen and an eighth-grader on their roster who are feeling their way through the season. McEachern also inherited some talented leaders, however, with senior captains Connor Dempsey and George Crowley leading the way.

Dempsey, a Winthrop native, is a slick-skating center who has committed to play at Dartmouth with its 2012 recruiting class.

“He’s always pushing details, details, details,” Dempsey said. “But it’s all those small things that lead up to winning games.

“He’s probably the most professional coach I’ve been around though. Every single drill is full speed, he keeps everything up-paced and every practice is very fast.

Dempsey said it took a couple games for the Red Wings to get up to speed with McEachern’s approach to the game, but the results have followed.

“In the beginning of the season, it was hard to get everyone to plug in. Everyone was on their own page and not really following the system. Especially in the past seven, eight games, everyone’s started to plug in and we’re starting to win games. It’s just about everyone trusting themselves and trusting in the style that we’re playing.”

While that transition takes time, McEachern is enjoying the ride. The 41-year old accomplished much in his hockey career. He was a Hobey Baker Award finalist at BU, an Olympian and won a Stanley Cup in his rookie season with the Pittsburgh Penguins. The lightning-fast skater also had the opportunity to play with his hometown team in Boston.

“Kevin Stevens called me the night before the deal and said that he was going to be traded to Boston and he thought I was going to be part of the deal, too,” McEachern said of the 1995 deal that re-shaped the Bruins, with youngsters Glen Murray and Bryan Smolinski headed the other way. “I was excited to come back and play in Boston, but it was tough because we left a team that had won two Stanley Cups in Pittsburgh.’

McEachern finished his career skating with the Ottawa Senators and Atlanta Thrashers (where he was also captain) before returning home to Boston one last time.

Wherever he’s landed, he’s always maintained the same passion for the game.

“I was lucky enough to play professionally for a long time and I’ve coached at the Division 3 and Division 1 levels in Hockey East,” McEachern said. “Kids are the same, it’s just the talent levels that change.”

And with a little bit of consistency, the Red Wings will be on their way.

“I think before the two losses last weekend we were playing well,” Dempsey said. “It’s just coming out and playing all three periods. Once we do that, we’ll be fine.”