By Ryan Massad, Contributing Writer
Marlborough – In 25 years, Marlborough High School (MHS) hockey coach John Butler accumulated a lot of wins – over 300. One of them was for the state championship. Imagine how difficult it would be to find a replacement for a coach of this caliber.
Marlborough Athletic Director Jeff Rudzinsky was faced with the challenge and made the best possible choice by hiring someone who was already familiar with Butler's system: a man who not only played under Butler (MHS class of “89) but also coached alongside him for the past five years. Michael O”Brien is the new head coach of the Panthers, and he plans to pick up right where Butler left off.
O”Brien is taking over a team that finished 16-4-1 last season. With nine seniors, there's plenty of leadership potential, making O”Brien's job a little easier. Together, senior captains Kyle Griffin, Josh Hill and Ryan Azar are part of what may be the best first line in the conference. Along with several other key players already in uniform, O”Brien also has a promising group of JV players, all of whom he's worked with before, which will enable him to fill in whatever “component” is needed.
After an outstanding career at MHS, goaltender Erik Carlson has graduated, leaving a hole between the pipes.
“With Erik graduating, there is an opening at goaltender. We will be looking for Ben Larsen, Joe Hutchinson, or Ben Wickelman to replace him,” O”Brien said.
With the team in place, the Panthers have begun preparing for what could be a very difficult regular season schedule. With the recent realignment, Marlborough finds itself in the Quinn conference. Other schools that make up the conference are Shrewsbury, Auburn, Wachusett and Hudson.
Last year's successful season ended with the Panthers” loss in the first round of the postseason tournament. Both O”Brien, and all the returning players want redemption, and certainly seem to have the firepower to get it done.
Hill is confident about his team's prospects this year.
“Our goal is not only to make playoffs, but win in playoffs,” he said. “We haven's had much playoff success the past few years, and it's be a great accomplishment for the team.”
Hill added, “Coach O”Brien spent a lot of time by Coach Butler's side, and he's ready to take over.”
“I don's think there are many differences between last year's team and this year's,” O”Brien said. “The one quality from last year's team that I really hope carries over, is the way each kid supported each other. They never gave up.”