By Dakota Antelman, Contributing Writer
Hudson – Mike Nanartowich is one of the longest tenured high school hockey coaches in Massachusetts. Enjoying a career he says he’s always wanted, Nanartowich is now reflecting on three decades of rivalries, championships, and a fair share of screaming matches with referees.
Indeed, Nanartowich just started his 31st season at the helm of the Hudson Hawks boys’ varsity hockey team. In those years, he has led his program to a state championship and over a dozen conference titles, earning respect from across the state along the way.
“I’ve kind of always wanted to coach,” he explained in a recent interview.
From player to teacher and then coach
Raised in Hudson, Nanartowich played hockey for the Hawks under longtime coach and athletic director Bill Bissett. Nanartowich eventually graduated in 1983 before moving on to play baseball at Springfield College.
He spent his first two years out of college working at Marlborough High School as a science teacher and athletic trainer, intermittently also skating with that school’s hockey team.
Quickly, Nanartowich says, Marlborough’s then coach John Butler began pushing him towards his own coaching and education dreams.
“I always wanted to teach and to coach but John was really the inspiration and the fire to get going on it,” he says.
Nanartowich came back to Hudson in 1988 where he started work as an assistant coach for his old hockey team. He opened those days, he says, with a no-nonsense promise to Bissett. — “I’m gonna make this program great.”
Within a year, Bissett resigned his coaching job and promoted Nanartowich.
“He wanted to leave [the head coaching job] to a Hudson guy,” Nanartowich says. “So, when I took it, I was ready for the job.”
Young and suddenly holding the coaching position he’d always wanted, Nanartowich said he shed quiet tears of joy as the Hudson School Committee approved his coaching appointment.
Then, he soon gleefully raged against Hudson’s longtime rival and short-term former employers.
“I still bleed Hawk red,” he says. “I break out in a rash whenever I see [Marlborough] black and orange.”
Recalling a rivalry with Marlborough
In 2000, already more than a decade into his coaching career, Nanartowich led an undefeated Hudson team into Marlborough’s Navin Ice Rink to face a similarly dominant Panther squad.
The building was packed, Nanartowich says. In the front row of the Hudson cheering section, meanwhile, Seamus Veo, a student, had his chest painted in prominent support of the team. Veo now works with the Hudson Police as the HHS resource officer.
Butler, Nanartowich’s former mentor, was also there.
“We kind of looked over to each other and said ‘This is going to be fun,’” Nanartowich explains.
Sharing credit as a controversial coach
Nanartowich can rattle off hundreds of stories of games like that Marlborough matchup. Many involve his personal competition with Butler. Still more defer credit for his own success to Hudson players.
“I’ve had tremendous athletes playing for me,” Nanartowich says. “…I love my kids for the effort that they always give me.”
Though he’s revered in Hudson and around the state, Nanartowich’s reputation isn’t necessarily one of spotless deification.
Some family members of players have their criticisms of Nanartowich. He also regularly berates officials he thinks miss calls during games.
“I can be fiery, but we’re fighting for our kids,” he says. “We live and die with our kids every single day. [The officials] get that.”
Nanartowich says he plans to retire soon. His son is playing hockey on his own so he wants to see him in action more.
In the meantime, though, Nanartowich is also just trying to navigate an unprecedented season of winter sports during COVID-19. The schedule is shortened. There will be restrictions in place. And Nanartowich still wants to keep winning through it all.
“We’ll see what happens,” he says.
Click here for more sports news.