Mike Nanartowich had promised himself he wouldn’t get emotional.
But as the Hudson High hockey coach sat in the Will McDonough Press Room at TD Garden Sunday, with his tie loosened around his wrinkled blue shirt, the tears were fighting their way out of Nanartowich’s weary eyes.
While some of his players believe it to be true, the coach himself can’t say with certainty that Sunday’s 5-1 triumph over Medway in the Division 3 state title game was his last game on the Hudson bench. But if it was and Nanartowich’s 22-year coaching career culminated with his first-ever state championship, his fingerprints may be permanently attached to the trophy he worked so hard to earn.
“Mike Nanartowich is one of the best coaches in the state,’’ said Medway first-year coach Chris Ross. “He had his guys going tonight. His team plays a very disciplined style and I try to play a similar style as him. But there’s no doubt Hudson was an even stronger team. They deserve to be state champs.’’
Hudson (23-1-1) used a stingy defense, a specially designed forecheck, and some creative offensive schemes that stifled the Division 3 South champs and gave the Hawks their first Division 3 title. Prior to Reading’s Super 8 title in 2008, Hudson was the last public school to win a Division 1 championship (1978).
“[My players] took me on an unbelievable ride,’’ said Nanartowich. “They’ve given me the opportunity so that plaque will have my name at the bottom of it, and that’s what I’ve been missing throughout my career.’’
One of Nanartowich’s challenges was finding a way to stop Medway’s speedy senior forward Jake O’Rourke, who had 43 goals this season.
It took O’Rourke less than two minutes to find the net Sunday, as he broke up a pass in his own zone and converted on a self-created breakaway. And though Nanartowich made a bold decision not to shadow the Medway captain, he was held off the stat sheet the rest of the game.
Hudson tied it before the second period, when its trio of senior forwards - Tyler Kirby, Alex Pantalone, and Brian Fahey, all close to 6 feet tall and upward of 175 pounds - led a charge of physical play. Ross said his squad had a difficult time responding.
Bryan Carter put Hudson ahead, 2-1, heading into the third, and Kirby scored twice in the final period to seal the win. Shane Barry had 19 saves for the Hawks, while Mike Narducci made 33 stops for Medway, which finished 19-7-1.
“Coach was on us the whole game and I’m glad he was,’’ Carter said of Nanartowich. “He always keeps us going. I think this was his last year, so it’s a good thing we won a state championship.’’
“It’s been in the back of my mind,’’ Nanartowich, 47, said of retiring. “My kids [daughter Riley, 7, and son Owen, 4] are getting older. I put my wife [Heather] and kids through holy heck and I owe them tremendously.
“When I feel it’s time, that’s when I’ll step back, clean myself from it, and give someone else the opportunity to have one of the greatest jobs you can possibly have.’’