Lavoie wants to make North-Souhegan hockey fun

Staff photo by TOM KING New Nashua North-Souhegan hockey coach Josh Lavoie has the full attention of his players during a recent scrimmage.

NASHUA – When new Nashua High School North-Souhegan ice hockey coach Josh Lavoie first met with his players a couple of weeks ago, he had a simple message — and a revelation.

“I’m your new coach,” he said is what he told them right away when he walked into a room where they were gathered. “I pretty much warned them that I was from BG (Bishop Guertin). I let that out of the bag pretty quick.”

Lavoie, you see, had been the rival Cardinals’ junior varsity coach for eight seasons, as well as being an alum, playing on the 2000 Guertin state title team his senior year as a Hudson native

With that confession made, it was time to get down to business. Lavoie had taken the past couple of years off due to personal and family reasons, and when it was known in early November that there was a likely opening for the Nashua High School North-Souhegan job, he pounced on it. Pete LaCroix, a former North assistant who coached the Saber-Titans for one season, decided late this fall to step down.

“I’m the type of coach, everything is earned with me,” Lavoie said. “I don’t pick favorites. Every single minute is earned with me. I told them the fourth line, the fifth and sixth defensemen, it’s up for grabs. Every week it could be different, so practice counts.”

He’s welcomed a team of 29 skaters and four goalies, so there will be a lot of players on the ice practicing. And a lot to get used to.

“Every kid’s different,” he said. “It takes a little bit to understand their personalities. I have their personalities pretty much, it’s the names and the faces now. That’s the hardest thing.”

After college at Plymouth State – he played as a freshman before injuries took their toll – Lavoie returned to the area and got back with Bishop and the Cardinals as a coach. He learned one main ingredient for coaching.

“Patience,” he said. “I learned patience. One thing Coach Bishop has is patience with his players. The season’s long – there’s a lot of learning, a lot of development that happens over the season. Just the fact that the kids come from teams where they practice once a week or may have games one or two times a week, they come into practice for four, five days a week. It’s a huge committement. The time on the ice, you see the benefits from it.”

In deciding to get back into the coaching ranks, Lavoie wanted a Division I program, but not as a JV or assistant coach. He wanted a head job.

“I wanted to see what I could do, put my talents as a coach to the test,” he said. “I felt I did a pretty good job as a JV coach. I’m a players coach, I relate to the players because I’m a younger (36) guy.

“I’m excited. I’m very hopeful for the season. I wasn’t sure what I was stepping into.”

What he’s stepping – or skating – into is a co-op program that is welcoming its third coach in three seasons and has won only a handful of games over two seasons.

“Hopefully, with me, we can find some stability,” he said. “My plan is to grow the team, to interact with the youth programs, to build the program. You’ve got to start with the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grade. You’ve got to get them interested in hockey. You’ve got to get them interested in coming to play for you.”

Lavoie says he hopes the co-op with Souhegan, which he says is on a year-by-year basis now, remains so he can build. The roster is about split, he said, between Souhegan and North players.

“It was a good influx of freshmen,” he said. “I got anywhere from seven to 10 freshmen, and we got some good returners.”

It’s been a whirlwind of a month for the enthusiastic Lavoie, who was hired just a couple of days after being interviewed. But he has a specific goal.

“For the kids to have fun,” he said. “As a high school hockey player, there’s lot of competition. It can be overwhelming sometimes. But the main focus for me is it’s a game. It’s a sport they’ve grown up playing and loving their whole entire life. I don’t want to take that fun away from them.

“As a player, for me in my development, I had many coaches that took that fun away from me, and made it more as a job and less of a sport. They’re high school kids. Their number one job is school.”

And many, he said, won’t play beyond this level.

“For them, it’s the stepping stone of their adulthood and life getting them on the right path, working as a team,” Lavoie said. “The dedication, what it means to be a team member, what it means to be up and down with wins and losses. Just build overall character out there.”

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No coach this school year may be as touched by a gesture by his players as Nashua South-Pelham hockey coach Shawn Connors.

Connors’ father, Chet, passed away suddenly last month, and the last few weeks have been understandably difficult for Connors and his family. His father attended a lot of the Kings games.

About a week ago, the South-Pelham players asked to meet with Connors in the locker room before a practice.

Fearing the worst – some type of disciplinary problem – Connors was stunned. His players showed him helmets with a special decal on the back honoring the memory of Chet Connors.

“Definitely wasn’t expecting that to happen,” Connors posted on Facebook but also said to a reporter late last week. “I thought maybe a parent was behind it, but no, these guys did it all on their own.”

“We did it for our coach,” Kings forward Riley Nutter said. “We made a sticker that says ‘This One’s For Chet’ . It’s a hockey stick in the shape of a musical note, for his love of music.

“We just wanted to do that for our coach. We’re really thankful for him and what he does for us.”

“In 16 years of coaching high school sports, this is probably the best thing I have ever had happen to me,” Connors said in a post. “My father was my hockey coach for my whole youth career, and I know he is feeling really proud right now.”

Nutter said it took no hesitation.

“Just right away,” he said. “He’s a great guy, and he does a lot for us.”

And this past week, they did a lot for him.

“I’d like to thank all the players for his huge sign of respect for my family,” Connors said.

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The last name McLaughlin has been synomous with high school swimming locally for the past several years, namely for Sean and his brother Brendan. Sean had been the longtime Alvirne coach while Brendan had coached, until the last couple of years, at Bishop Guertin before stepping away to spend more time with his family.

Well, Brendan McLaughlin is back coaching as a head man, at Alvirne of all places, and replacing – you guessed it – his brother. Brendan had helped Sean out last season from time to time.

And Sean, now the former Broncos coach, is an assistant at…yes, Bishop Guertin.

“He got me last season to assist him and then stepped down due to wanting to spend more family time,” Brendan McLaughlin said of his brother. “With BG, it allows him to just coach and not worry about the administration (work).

“You know we can’t walk away. We love swimming and diving, it’s in our blood.”

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