Flynn has built solid foundation for future Nashua Chick-fil-A tourneys

Kevin Flynn first got involved with the high school boys basketball holiday tournament in Nashua when his son played for the Panthers.

That was 10 years ago. Flynn’s son, Ryan, has been out of high school for almost as long, but he’s stayed around as the director of the tournament, which is now sponsored by Chick-fil-A.

And if everything goes according to his plan, the 2013 tourney will be the last with Flynn orchestrating it.

“He works so hard at it because he’s a perfectionist in the best way possible and it’s too much,” Nashua South coach Nate Mazerolle said. “He misses family time during the holiday season. It takes so much and he still has a full-time job. We’ve been blessed.”

Before Flynn stepped in, Mazerolle – who at the time was the head coach for a unified Nashua – ran the show, along with running a high school basketball program.

“I volunteered as a parent that year because I like doing stuff like this,” Flynn said “I asked him ‘How would you like it if I took over the tournament from you?’ After I picked him up off the floor, he said ‘Are you kidding?’

“Every since then, we’ve grown it, we’ve gotten some sponsors, like Chick-fil-A, and some other major sponsors, and it’s grown to what it is.”

The tournament, which was started in the 1970s, was a four-team affair that was small in comparison to its predecessors. Now it’s expanded to eight teams, with each guaranteed three games in as many days, with trophies for the finalists and members of the all-
tournament team.

It has also provided a place for former players and students to get together over the holidays.

“There were four teams and no dancing cows and we didn’t have a DJ and there was no food,” Mazerolle said. “It was just come play basketball, which is fine, but it’s the holidays and people come home. It’s like a homecoming, not unlike the Turkey Bowl. People come to watch basketball and see friends.”

While securing sponsors was always a tricky task, that hardest thing Flynn found in recent years was getting volunteers.

“I don’t know what it is, getting people to volunteer is tough and it makes it a little bit harder than it should be,” he said. “In fairness to the parents, basketball tryouts don’t start until right after Thanksgiving, and we need to get going on this in September.

“We can’t wait until Thanksgiving, so you’re asking parents to make a commitment and help out without even knowing if their kid is going to make the team. To a certain extent, I understand the hesitation, but on the other hand, you’re helping kids. Even if you’re kid doesn’t make the team, you’re helping your community.”

Over the last 10 years, the tournament has provided that community with some entertaining basketball, perhaps none greater than Saturday’s championship game between South and Alvirne. The Panthers won their third-consecutive championship on a buzzer-beater in a game that went back and forth the whole way.

“This one is going to be a memory,” Flynn said of the 2013 tourney. “We had a game, I don’t remember how many years ago, but we had a Thornton Academy-New Dorp High School, from State Island, final. It wasn’t a good final for the tournament because we didn’t have a lot of people, but it was such a hard-fought basketball game.

“We’ve had some North-South clashes that have been good. It’s been good to see some of the other local teams in it. It’s become the Southern New Hampshire tournament. Manchester has its tournament, we’ve got all the southern teams, or most of them, and I think it’s a good tournament. The caliber of basketball is pretty good.”

After Saturday’s game, Mazerolle presented Flynn with a plaque honoring his 10 years as tournament director, and while the coach hopes he can talk him out of stepping down, he encouraged the crowd to spread the word to anyone who might be interested in taking over.

“We’ll call him a consultant for now and (North coach) Steve (Lane) and I are going to work on him to come back,” Mazerolle said. “It’s been a tremendous run and it’s a great tournament and it’s because of him. Kevin built that and I know he takes pride and we’ll find some way to continue the tradition.”

Valuable experience at Conway tourney

Unbeaten Nashua High School North has the championship trophy and certainly displayed its ability, but who else may have been a big winner in the ninth annual Conway Arena Hockey Tournament?

Try Souhegan. The Division III Sabers took Division I North and Division II Alvirne to sudden-death overtime before losing, then beat Nashua South 5-0 to salvage a win two divisions up.

“We got as much out of this tournament as we possibly could,” Souhegan coach Dan Belliveau said. “We saw a lot of positive stuff. The back checking, the defensive strategies, the power play. There were a lot of good things out there these kids did. And we got a lot of kids out there to play.”

Sophomore Joe Nutting scored nine goals and senior Mike Hayden also provided an offensive spark. Meanwhile, senior goalie Connor McCall, in his first year as a starting goaltender, got three games of valuable, pressure-packed experience.

“He doesn’t have as much experience as some of these other goalies around in the division,” Belliveau said. “Team defense was very important for us. The first couple of (Division III) games where we had big leads you can kind of lose focus. We tightened up our defense. For us it’s a good Segway into the (rest of the) regular season.”

Alvirne found itself a goalie in Curtis Richall, who played well in the tournament. He kept the high-flying Sabers off the scoreboard in the third period and overtime of the second game and gave up only three goals to Nashua North, which dominated

“He was the MVP of the tournament for us, that’s for sure,” Broncos coach Brian Gould said. “He stood on his head when he had to. If we get that the rest of the season from him, we’ll be fine.”

Nashua North and South, of course, were on the opposite ends of the spectrum. The Titans, now 6-0, resume their regular season at Conway Arena on Saturday against Hanover and head coach Dan Legro likes how his team, led by Jake Latham, Jon Searles, a Tim and Joey Paige (among others) has kept the momentum going.

“Our first line was clicking really well, there’s some chemistry,” Legro said. “And (in the finals) all of our goals came from our second line. So we can move forward knowing our second line (led by Dan Leblanc) is producing as well.”

For the Panthers, it was a different experience than their Conway title win in 2012. “This tournament we came out slow, it was a tough week for us healthwise,” Panthers coach Eric Momnie said, adding that one of his better forwards, Steve Saucier, should be available soon after missing the tournament with an illness. “Hopefully we’ll have a full squad getting back into the swing of things.”

In other tourneys

Two other area teams, Merrimack and Bishop Guertin, each took a game in their events, the Tomahawks in the Bauer Christmas Tournament in Manchester and the Cards in their opener at the Mount St. Charles tourney in Rhode Island.

Guertin is slated to be back in action vs. Trinity, storm permitting, on Thursday, while Merrimack is supposed to visit Lebanon on Thursday as well. Meanwhile, the ’Hawks host Oyster River in a special event at Manchester’s JFK Coliseum at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday.

It’s a game called “Battle For The Brave, raising money for Operation Hat Trick, part of the Wounded Warrior program that supports wounded New Hampshire troops. There will be a jersey raffle, third jersey style, ’Hawks coach Kurth Mithoefer said.

Merrimack has played in only one regular season game, but avenged that 3-1 loss to Goffstown in the Bauer tourney. Mithoefer is still letting goalies Devin Gillis and Matt Brewster compete for the regular job. The ’Hawks lost but held their own against Division I teams Trinity and Manchester Central in the tourney, and Mithoefer has liked what he’s seen from Mark Feeney on defense and Jeff Gerhard and John Tiano at forward.

“It’s going to be a challenging year with a lot of younger guys,” Mithoefer said. “The stronger, physical, bigger teams we’ve kind of struggled against.”

Staff writer Tom King also contributed to this report.