It has been less than a week since Hudson High captured its first state championship since 1978, and already the question is floating around high school hockey circles: Where does this team rank among Division 3 title teams?
In the eyes of John Butler, who guided Marlborough to a state championship in 2005 before ending his 25-year coaching career after last season, this edition of the Hudson squad is high up on the list.
“It was better than my team when we won it in ’05,’’ said Butler, who had avoided high school hockey games all winter but finally found himself watching Hudson’s tourney run. And that Marlborough team included Butler’s son, Bobby, now a first-line right wing with the NHL’s Ottawa Senators.
The elder Butler and Hawks coach Mike Nanartowich remain close friends despite spending years on opposite sides of a heated rivalry.
“Player for player, I thought it was a lot deeper,’’ Butler said of the Hudson squad. He also said he told Nanartowich, “You really have a special team here.’’
Hudson’s 5-1 dismantling of Medway on Sunday at TD Garden in Boston left even the opposing coach in awe.
Medway skipper Chris Ross said there was “no doubt’’ the Hawks were the better team. Looking at the numbers, it is hard to argue against Hudson as one of the more talented Division 3 champs in recent memory.
The offense, led by seniors Tyler Kirby (24 goals, 16 assists), Tim Murphy, Brian Fahey, Zack Graham, Alex Pantalone and Blake Seymour, averaged more than five goals per game.
The defense, anchored by junior goalie Shane Barry (1.83 goals-against average) along with senior Tom Fahey and junior Brian Carter on the blue line, held opponents to one goal or less in 14 of 25 games. And no high school team in the state, at any level, had a higher winning percentage than the Hawks (23-1-1, .940).
“I’ve been here for 22 years,’’ said Nanartowich. “I’ve seen a lot of kids go through the door. And this might anger a lot of my former players, but this is the greatest team I’ve ever coached. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.’’
And it might be his last team at Hudson. The father of two young children - daughter Riley, 7, and son Owen, 4 - Nanartowich said he is seriously considering stepping down as coach, though he is not sure when he will make the decision.
“It’s almost like quitting smoking,’’ the 47-year-old said. “You just have to make a decision that it’s time to move on to the next chapter of my life.’’
“Mike will know when it’s time,’’ said Butler. “He’s an administrator, so I’m sure he wants to be an athletic director or principal someday. He understands that and I don’t think he’ll go away. I think he’ll be back for three more years.’’
Tough loss for Medway captain
There are not a lot of hockey players who have left Catholic Memorial’s prestigious hockey program in favor of their local public school, but Medway High senior Jake O’Rourke is glad he made the switch.
O’Rourke, who said goodbye to the West Roxbury high school after his freshman year, put together three incredible seasons for Medway, ending his career with a 43-goal campaign as the Mustangs captured the Division 3 Eastern Massachusetts title before falling to Hudson, 5-1, in the state championship game Sunday.
But as O’Rourke walked into his kitchen at home Monday morning, he looked on the table and saw a picture in a local paper that showed him on the TD Garden ice, crying after the loss.
Not only is O’Rourke a special hockey player, he’s also a good sport.
“Nah, it’s not that bad,’’ O’Rourke said Monday. “I don’t know if my parents feel the same way, but that’s going to happen. My friend texted me and said, ‘Put that on the mantle.’ That’ll work.’’
For coach Chris Ross, though, the picture that captured his captain’s disappointment was just another way to signify how much O’Rourke matured as a player.
“I think a couple things led to that,’’ Ross said. “One: Literally the entire town rallied behind us and everyone was so excited about what the team had accomplished. I think he just wanted to win this game so bad from that perspective.
“But I think deep down more than anything, he’s a kid that grew up playing in the best-of-the-best type of leagues. And I think in his head, coming into high school, he thought hockey was going to be it for him. He’s grown up and understood that there are other things. He’s also a budding baseball player. So this was his last game, and he was crushed.’’
O’Rourke is expected to play shortstop on the Medway High baseball team this spring, and is looking to play outfield at either Eastern Connecticut State or the University of Akron, both Division 2 programs, next fall.
But his 60-point season at Medway will not soon be forgotten.
“It doesn’t matter what league you’re in,’’ Ross said. “If you’re putting the puck in the net 43 times in a 25-game season, you have legitimate skill.’’
Uncle’s advice paid off
John Messuri gave his niece, Megan, some advice before she and her Arlington Catholic teammates squared off against St. Mary’s in the Division 1 girls’ title game at TD Garden on Sunday.
“I told her, ‘The puck is black, the net is white, just do what you do,’ ’’ said Messuri, who coaches the boys’ team at Arlington High after a long tenure at Winchester High.
Megan, at just 5 feet tall, played perhaps her best game of the season, making 25 saves as the Cougars won, 3-1, to earn their first state title since 2007.
Megan’s older brother, Mike, a Globe All-Scholastic at Winchester who graduated in 2010, taught her how to play the position.
Their uncle said it was like watching the same goalie on Sunday, and he had flashbacks from the 2009 Super 8, when Mike made 34 saves as the Sachems stunned Catholic Memorial in a 4-2 opening-round win.
“I look up to him,’’ Megan said of her brother. “I realized I play better under pressure. I just don’t want to let anyone down.’’
Donadio kept Franklin in it
Two years in a row, the Franklin High boys’ hockey team advanced to the TD Garden for the Division 2 title game, and two years in a row the Panthers came up one goal short.
But Chris Spillane’s squad, having graduated a large core of seniors a year ago, was hardly expected to reach Boston again.
The wild card? Sophomore goalie Mike Donadio, who started just 60 percent of the Panthers’ games this season but got hot in the state tournament. Donadio made 30 stops in the 3-2 loss to Wilmington on Sunday, making a claim on next year’s starting gig heading into the offseason. Sophomore Devon Maloof will also compete for the job.
“Donadio kept us in the tournament,’’ Spillane said. “He played great, I couldn’t take him out.’’