When John Findley was hired as head hockey coach at Notre Dame Academy in Hingham before the start of this season, it was a match that worked for everyone.
The school was seeking its third coach in as many years, and Findley came with a combined 18 years’ experience as an assistant coach at Duxbury and Hingham high schools.
Findley was looking for his first head coaching gig. He had turned down offers before so he could watch his daughter, Martha, play college hockey at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., where she was an All-American.
Now Findley is taking over the Notre Dame Academy program, which is just two years removed from a state title, with his daughter as an assistant coach.
Add in a couple pairs of sisters on the team, and it’s clear why this group is especially tight-knit. Findley, who previously coached with his twin brother at Hingham, said of his NDA team “they really love each other, they all care about one another and their work reflects that.”
“We’re just one big happy family,” said Natalie O’Brien, a senior captain from Hull. “We have a lot of new, younger girls as well as upperclassmen, but there’s a really good dynamic between the two. I think we have a really good balance there.”
Kelsey Stewart, a junior defender from Halifax, is part of one of the sister duos on the squad; Caelan Stewart is joining the team as a freshman forward this year. But Kelsey said sometimes it’s hard to differentiate between her sisters by blood and sisters by ice.
“Being so close to the other girls is like having a bunch of different sisters,” she said.
The other sisters on the team are senior Ava and sophomore Hana Bevilacqua of Dedham.
Bridget McKeone, a senior captain from Hingham, said having two sets of sisters “definitely adds some fun to the team. But we were all sisters before they were on the team, so it’s not really different.”
For the Findleys, the father-daughter coaching setup makes perfect sense. John provides experience, while Martha offers the perspective of having recently played in college.
“It’s great working with high school girls, because I can relate,” Martha Findley said. “I’ve only been out of school for a year and a half.”
Kelly Morrissey, a captain from Canton, said Martha Findley has been a great example for the team.
“Her just graduating from college, she’s a great role model for us,” Morrissey said. “We’re all seniors and we’re venturing off. She’s shown us a lot of how we can still be physical out on the ice even though you can’t check. She’s already shown us so much.”
John Findley said the system the Cougars will use this year is brand new to this group, and it’s modeled largely after what his daughter used at Saint Anselm.
Her coach, Kersten Matthews, “put a whole system together and we’ve basically mirror-imaged it,” he said. “We’re basically Saint A’s at the high school level in terms of our system. It’s just high energy.”
Martha Findley said she is enjoying coaching with her father, but she doesn’t “want to step on his toes. It’s nice because he utilizes my college experience with different types of plays.”
The Cougars won it all in 2016, a triumph some players on this year’s team experienced. Last year they fell short, losing in the tournament quarterfinals to Canton.
“A lot of change has happened every single year, but what we’ve all been able to focus on is who we do have and not as much about who’s gone,” said Morrissey. “We’ve all become close over the years, and we’re excited to see what happens this year.”
For the team to be successful this year, John Findley has two goals: Communicate, and live in the moment.
“I want the girls talking to each other,” he said. “They talk a lot in class, in the cafeteria, we want them to be able to talk on the ice.
“My goals and expectation is that the girls make so many memories and enjoy themselves. I told the girls, at the end of the year, only one team holds the state trophy.”
Charlie Wolfson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.