High school hockey, in the opinion of Norton varsity boys’ coach Kyle Heagney, is a perfect microcosm of life.
“It teaches kids about the rest of the world — life skills, sacrifice, commitment, challenge,” said Heagney, who, off ice, is Attleboro police chief, a position he has held since 2011.
“In order to be successful in life, you have to understand failure.”
Heagney is one of a number of first responders in the region who have gravitated toward high school hockey as head coaches and assistants.
Jim Genovese, head coach at Foxborough High, is an officer with the Marshfield Police Department. Franklin coach Chris Spillane is a sergeant on that town’s police force. And Hanover coach Jon Abban is a detective.
The majority have a playing background. And most try to use the lessons learned as first responders to try to develop not only successful programs, but also steer young adults onto a path of success.
Heagney, in his second season at the two-year old varsity program at Norton, said: “I coach for development. If we don’t win a game all season would I be upset? Yes. Would I be disappointed? No. I’m all about developing the young adult and watching them turn that into successful endeavors. Some of the most unsuccessful teams I’ve had were winning teams.”
Heagney, who played hockey at Bishop Feehan, served in the military after high school before starting his career in law enforcement. He launched his coaching career as an assistant at Bishop Feehan before he was hired as Norton High’s first coach.
He is also an assistant coach for the Neponset Valley River Rats U16 team that won a national championship in 2013 and has produced several Division 1 hockey players.
He keeps his self-funded program afloat by donating his entire $4,500 coaching salary back to the team.
“I do it to help the kids and support the program,” Heagney said. “These are the little things that make a big difference in supporting the players and our programs.”
Through it all, the motive has stayed the same.
A team is judged on its wins and losses by outsiders. But the game means much more to the coaches who dedicate their time in helping others on and off the ice.
“That’s what I love about coaching,” Heagney said. “You’re shaping young adults to be successful people later in life.”
Genovese, a former player at Marshfield High and Suffolk University, is in his first year as a full-time officer in his hometown.
“Every day you’re out there dealing with people who have different personalities,” he said. “It’s kind of like walking into a locker room during the first day of practice. You have to mesh everything together. That comes with our role, dealing with people in the street every day. It plays a big role coaching the team. You have to put the right guys together to get the right chemistry.”
Senior captain Nick Luciano a four-year varsity player for Genovese, said his teammates have a great deal of respect for their coach, “knowing what he does every day.”
“He definitely emphasizes staying safe on and off the ice,” added Luciano. “He’s taught us a great work ethic that we all take and use during the off-season. During the game he emphasizes being fair, and not going out of your way to injure someone or anything like that. He keeps order on our team, and the whole team gives him a ton of respect.”
Most importantly, he’s taught me to show respect to everyone around you no matter what, and to keep a positive attitude for the rest of your teammates.”
Abban, who played at New Hampshire College and University of Massachusetts Boston before joining the police academy his senior year of college, noted how police officers are a fraternity.
“Hockey players are very similar,” he said. “It’s a close-knit family-like atmosphere.”
Abban, who is in his fourth season as head coach at Hanover after serving as an assistant for two seasons, has worked in the Hanover Police Department for 20 years.
“Me being a detective, you don’t always see the greatest things in society,” he said. “It’s a way to influence the [hockey] program and town in a positive way. We try to bridge that gap. For me it starts from the top. My dad was a policeman for 40 years in the city of Boston.”
He lauded a great support system in Hanover.
“The chief of police [Walter Sweeney] is a huge hockey fan,” he said. “We work hand-in-hand with the School Department. It’s a great relationship between the school and Police Department.”
“Last year we had a great run into the state finals. The entire command staff [of the Hanover Police Department] was at the game. It’s awesome.”
Abban is always encouraging the members of his team to give back to their hometown.
“It is certainly a community-based effort,” he said. “We encourage the kids to give back, and get out in the community. I’m a product of this town. The town’s been great to me.
“The bottom line is, you get out of it what you put into it,” he added. “You could have a successful career by doing the little things off the ice. That’s very similar to police work. You could have a long career doing nothing, or a long career where you’ve done a lot.”
His work is appreciated.
“He works all day at the station and then comes every day,” said Hanover captain Tyler Powers. ”He completely dedicates himself to the team. He always says we’re all a family, and with him protecting our town we’re all really grateful. . . . He’s taught me a lot about hockey but even more about life.”
Joshua Brown can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.