MIKE LANE talks to his team during a timeout earlier this season. The Eagles won their fourth Division III title on March 11.
Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
March 20, 2017CONWAY — As a player at Kennett High School, Kennett hockey coach Mike Lane never had the opportunity to win a state championship.
On Saturday, March 11, Lane led his team to its fourth title, all during his time at the helm.
Almost a week later, Lane sat down to talk about the season, the team and the success the program has seen. But it was evident that the season was still not over.
In his office at the Conway Recreation Department, Lane was working on his computer, while his personal laptop sat beside him with Valley Vision's coverage of the games from throughout the season. The coach was putting together highlight packages and was listening to Rick West's call to pick up the best moments.
"I'm doing all the end of the season stuff," Lane said. "Trying to just get a head start to go through things for next season."
He said he's working on a scouting report for each team while they are all still fresh in his head, making the start of next year a bit simpler.
"When November rolls around, we have things prepared and ready to go," Lane said.
Additionally, he was finishing end of the year paperwork for the athletic department, preparing for the winter sports awards and his team's annual year-end banquet at Indian Mound Golf Club's River's Edge.
"Once we get through the banquet on March 30, I'll take a breather," the Eagle coach said. "Then we have our first fundraiser (at Frechette Tire) in April."
And the work doesn't really stop for the Eagles, who fundraise for most of the team expenses throughout the year.
"Once we make it through July fourth, the fundraising really kicks off," Lane said. "But it certainly makes it easier to do this stuff when you win."
It's safe to say that everything that must be dealt with in the offseason will be a bit easier to do this year for Lane and his fellow coaches, Justin Frechette, Mike Deyak and Joe Murphy, as they will have a new state championship banner to hang in the rafters of the Ham Arena next season.
The Eagles finished the season strong, beating Berlin-Gorham 4-0 in the finals, a game that Lane commented was very similar to his team's first title win, a 4-0 win over Souhegan in 2009. Kennett finished playing the best hockey of the season, in the coach's mind, as everyone was finally healthy and at 100 percent.
"It's said that the best eight teams make the playoffs and the hottest team wins it," Lane said. "I think that kind of rings true in our division.
"The best four teams made the semis and the hottest team was going to win," he continued. "We played or best hockey down the stretch."
While the elation of a Division III championship certainly made everything worthwhile in the end, he noted that things aren't always rosy during the season.
"The winter sports season is a long season," Lane said. "You're going to get those midwinter blues.
"There are some days when it's tedious to go to the rink," he added.
However, he noted the Eagles pushed through that and went into the playoffs playing good hockey with everybody available on the bench.
And the competition this year in Division III was top-notch, as all four teams at the top of the standings at the end of the year split games with each other.
"If you played those games (semifinals) over on Thursday with the same four teams, it could've been a different finals," Lane said, referring to Belmont-Gilford, Berlin-Gorham and Somersworth-Coe-Brown. "There's a reason we all split.
"It was wide open this year, which made it really enjoyable," Lane continued. "That's what this division needs, it's a great sign for the future for our division to have competitiveness go up and down."
The difference, Lane sees at least, between his team and the others is the team defense, which he noted included not only the defensive players, but also the goaltender and forwards.
"Our centers did a phenomenal job coming back and playing 200 feet of ice," Lane said. "We stress that all the time."
He pointed to the two shutouts in the semifinals and finals as the proof that the defense earned its keep. And what makes it better for the Eagle coach, is that every single one of his defenders, his keeper and his centers are all back next year too.
"We weren't as flashy as some of the other teams," Lane said. "But defense wins championships and our team, we make you work to score, that's the marquee of our team."
The run to the finals marked the first time since their last championship in 2012 that Kennett had been in the finals, meaning none of the players on this year's team had ever been part of a team that played in the finals. With one exception.
That exception was Reilly Murphy, the team's freshman defender, who was the team manager for many years before reaching high school and becoming a player.
"He was probably one of the most comfortable kids in the playoffs because he's been around it," Lane said, touting the freshman's calmness.
Lane also noted that three other freshmen played significant roles on this year's team, allowing him to skate three lines all year long.
"Chet (Johnston) had such a great season," Lane said. "He's physical but he plays the right way and does everything we ask of him.
"And we have big expectations of our centers," Lane said, referencing Trevor LaRusso. "It shows you what we think of him to put him there. Usually we start them on the wings and move them to center later."
While none of his players had played on the ice at the Southern New Hampshire University Arena in a championship game, Lane said it also felt like it had been a while to him, despite the fact that he has been to the finals six times in his 10 years on the bench.
"Those tournament games, there are so many distractions," he said. "That can get you out of what your game is.
"It was a challenging experience preparing this team for that this year," he said. "But the kids did an excellent job of preparing themselves the right way."
Lane noted that the team jerseys have three NH patches on the back near the shoulders, representing the three D3 titles and he wants each kid to know that they are carrying the responsibility of the tradition of the program on their shoulders.
"And now, every Eagle in the future will have to carry you on their shoulders," Lane told his kids after the championship win.
Lane said that it's hard to put into words just what another title means to him, but he praised his kids for putting in the work.
"I've been blessed with great players and good kids," he said. "We have hockey players and we have kids who play hockey. They follow the rules and every one gave a little bit of themselves for the betterment of the team."
Lane also noted that as a Kennett alum, he tries to carry things he learned from Kennett coaching legends that he played for.
"The tradition at Kennett is really important to be, being an alum," Lane said. "I try to have a little Gary Millen, a little Peter Ames, a little Bob Burns, a little Bob Russell and mold it into my coaching style.
"It's a group effort for everything," Lane continued. "The parents who buy in, supporting team dinners, to (trainer) Teddy Nutting, who works on the kids all year, to (athletics director) Neal Weaver for all he does behind the scenes and (principal) Neal Moylan and Kelley Murphy.
"Plus all the sponsors and people who support us," Lane said, noting that thanks to local businesses, students didn't have to pay to attend the home playoff game and anyone who rode the fan buses to Plymouth and/or Manchester also didn't have to pay thanks to donors.
"The community support is second to none," Lane said. "There's so many people that make this whole thing work. And the kids go out and make it work on the ice.
"When it ends, and you see them pile on each other on the ice, it's worth it," Lane said. "We pushed them really hard this year. They didn't like the coaching staff much at times."
Lane also praised his assistant coaches for their work in preparing the team and then managing things on the bench during games. Frechette focuses on defense, Murphy on offense and Deyak on goaltending, allowing Lane to focus on the big picture.
"They allow me to coach the game and coach the Xs and Os," the Eagle coach said.
And as the Eagles prepare to head to another offseason, losing just three players to graduation, there's a good chance that they'll have the opportunity to play for another championship when next winter rolls around.
Until then, there's still plenty of work to be done.
Joshua Spaulding can be reached at 569-3126 or firstname.lastname@example.org.