WALPOLE — When it comes to dinnertime conversation, or family gatherings, between the end of November and mid-March, Paula Verderber knows there is one topic that dominates all others: Walpole High girls’ ice hockey.
The last six seasons, her 70-year-old husband, Ted , and son Joe , 42, have teamed up to coach the Rebels, transforming it from a start-up program and Bay State Conference newbie to perennial state tournament qualifier.
“It’s all they talk about,” said Verderber, whose big smile indicates she doesn’t mind the chatter that much.
“It’s awesome. They work together all day long’’ as contractors, she said, “and then they come and coach together. It’s unbelievable. They feed off one another, they bounce ideas off one another. It’s just nice.”
But the Verderbers are not like most father-son coaching duos.
For the Rebels, the son, a fifth-generation resident of the town, is the head coach, with the elder serving as the loyal assistant. And that’s the way they like it.
They joke like old friends, manage time and the team like co-workers, and butt heads like, well, family. After more than a decade and a half of coaching together, the Verderbers have their routine down pat.
“We vary in our opinions in how to get things done,” Joe Verderber, a forward at Brown University in the late 1980s and early 1990s, says with a hearty laugh, explaining that his coaching methods contrast with his father’s old-school, tell-it-how-it-is style. “Ultimately I win, though.
“It’s only because it’s more of a respect to the positions we all hold. . . . In front of the girls or anybody else, we have to be unified. Same consistent voice, consistent messages that come through day in and day out.”
The duo got their start in the 1990s, when Joe headed the Attleboro High boys’ team. He had been an assistant with the Walpole boys, and when he decided it was time to move on, he thought he would invite his dad to join him in Attleboro.
“I just asked him,” Joe said. “I . . . knew we were going to need someone to work with the defensemen, and who better? He reluctantly said yes.”
“Who better?” indeed.
A member of Walpole High’s class of 1960, the elder Verderber played defense as a collegian at Brown. He later coached the Walpole juniors — a team of 17- to 21-year-olds that then-14-year-old Joe snuck onto, according to Ted — to much success.
Ten years later, son and father — this time supplemented by assistant coach Matt Hastlehurst , a two-year captain for the Verderbers in their early years with the Bombardiers — turned a start-up program into a contender for the second time in as many tries.
The Rebel girls qualified for the state tourney in each of the past five years, and this year is no different. Led by senior captain Michaela Tosone (12 goals, eight assists) and junior defenseman Brooke Matherson (10 goals, seven assists), Walpole was 8-4-1 through last weekend, and in the thick of the Bay State’s Herget Division race.
Matherson likes to jump into the rush up the ice from her spot on the blue line. But her responsibilities on defense, including eight-minute shifts, take precedence.
Tosone, who skates the wing on the Rebels’ top line, is also a solid two-way player. In last Wednesday’s matchup against Weymouth — a 2-1 loss for the Rebels — she got back to break up a 1-on-goalie situation, and then went on an end-to-end rush with the puck to start a lengthy Walpole possession.
The son-father dynamic isn’t lost on the girls, who seem to get a kick out of it.
“It’s really funny because Joe has complete control over Teddy,” said Matherson, in the midst of a few giggles, before the game against Weymouth. “He’ll tell him to shut up when he’s rambling on for too long. All the time. And Joe will get through talking to us about the game and then he’ll let Teddy have one thing to say.”
Tosone mentioned that before games, “Joe always tells us about the other team. Then Teddy tells us to go to bed early, and tells us to run in the morning and eat a good breakfast.”
They’ll need that nourishment the rest of the way, with games against Norwood (9-2-1 record), Braintree (6-3-3), Duxbury (12-1-1), and Canton (12-2) left on their regular-season slate.
And in the MIAA tourney, the Rebels will be shooting to advance past the Division 2 quarterfinals for the first time in five years.
The Verderbers have received more than a few calls over the years from other school districts with invitations to take over a program, of either gender, but they’re set on staying put. Between their success, the town, and Walpole High’s rich hockey tradition — something Ted in particular is very proud of — the Verderbers are not looking to go anywhere.
“It seems to work very well for us,” Ted said.
Archbishop Williams finds winning ’tude
Derackk Curtis doesn’t know exactly when, and he doesn’t know exactly how, but sometime this season, his Archbishop Williams boys’ hockey team learned a valuable lesson.
The Bishops learned how to compete.
That burning desire was on full display Saturday, when the 8-2-3 squad netted its biggest win of the season by crushing Arlington Catholic, 7-2.
Junior forwards Michael Sorenti (3 goals) and Mike Jessman (2 goals, 2 assists) led the way in what was a dramatic turnaround from the teams’ first meeting, a 1-1 tie, just two weeks prior.
It’s a relatively young group of Bishops, with nine juniors carrying most of the load, but it’s also a group that feeds off of being the underdog.
“We are not chock-full of talent,” Curtis said. “I have some good talent in there, but my kids work hard. That’s the key — that they believe in themselves and they work hard.”Tim Healey can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @timbhealey.