WATERTOWN — James O’Brien stands on the ice at Watertown Municipal Arena on Wednesday afternoon, directing practice for the Immaculate Heart Central hockey team.
When asked about his new endeavor as head coach of the Cavaliers, a smile comes across his face.
Now at the spry age of 74, O’Brien is taking on a new challenge — even for him — in his many years of coaching and officiating games in the north country.
“I think age is just a number,” said O’Brien, who grew up in Watertown and goes by the nickname of “Obie.
“I’m really enjoying this.”
This is the first time O’Brien is coaching a varsity hockey team and he’s relishing the opportunity.
“I really liked the idea, I’ve always wanted to do it,” O’Brien said of coaching a high school team. “And now I have the opportunity to do it.”
O’Brien has more than 40 years experience in area youth hockey, including about 25 as a coach, and many more an official.
He has also worked some 40 years as a hockey official, many as a referee.
“Even though my kids quit (hockey) when they were young, I just kept right on going,” O’Brien said. “I really enjoy officiating, it was nothing for me to do 10 games in a week, but I like coaching, too.”
His years officiating games include 23 as referee-in-chief locally, chiefly with the Watertown Hockey Association, working mainly youth hockey games in the Watertown area, as well as Clayton, Alexandria Bay and Pulaski.
“I’m still a senior off-ice official and I’ve got my referee’s pass,” O’Brien said. “I enjoy that, but I’m looking forward to coaching again.”
The first team O’Brien coached was with a club team at Indian River back in 1976, at a level that was the forerunner of varsity hockey in the area.
“I expressed some interest in helping out this program,” O’Brien said of IHC. “The vice principal there at the time said ‘I keep asking around looking for another coach and your name kept coming up.’ And I said ‘there are lot of coaches around, but I’ll give it a shot.’”
The Cavaliers have their work cut out for them on the ice as the team won only four games last season, including just two in Section 3’s Division II league.
“Everything is going good,” O’Brien said. “We’ve got three new coaches, we’ve got some kids from last year. We’ve got five seniors and (nine) juniors, so we’ll look good for next year, too.”
But O’Brien, and his assistant coaches Eric Phillips and Bob Thomaris feel they are up to the challenge in guiding this season’s team.
“It’s really kind of like a whole new perspective,” O’Brien said. “And it was good picking up these two guys as assistant coaches, they really help in running practice.”
The team is once again made up of players from IHC, General Brown, Indian River and Watertown.
“We’ve got a young team, but they’re fast,” O’Brien said. “So we just have to see what they can do in competition, that’s all.”
This year’s team includes 13 returning players and 10 newcomers to the program. Among the returners are senior forwards Connor Clement, Gabe Horner and Donovan Howard, and senior defenseman Cole Grant.
The team also features returners in juniors Carson Barrett, Brennen Derouchie, Tristen Gilbert, Kyle Hughes, Ethan Johnston, Morgan Milkowich and Colton Young; as well as five sophomores, including returners Garrett Hudon and Ben Wiley; and four freshmen.
The IHC program has struggled in recent years, but O’Brien and his staff are encouraged with the turnout of players as 29 student athletes tried out for the team.
“The buy-in here is pretty high,” Thomaris said. “We’ve got more players (than) we can dress for games right now. And I’ve told a few players that coming in and there’s a number that want to stick around here with no expectation of playing time. So that’s always a good sign considering how much of a commitment hockey is today in the first place.”
“We had five goalies try out as well, which is unusual,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien has been approached before in previous years about possibly coaching at IHC.
Phillips, who teaches at General Brown, and Thomaris, who teaches at Indian River, are also newcomers to the IHC program.
“Bob works with the offense, Eric works with the defense and I’m working with the goalies,” O’Brien said. “So it’s a perfect combination for us.”
IHC will open its season when it plays Ontario Bay at 6:30 tonight in the first round of the Nicholson Tournament in Pulaski.
The Cavaliers’ home opener is against St. Lawrence Central at 6 p.m. Monday and they will begin Section 3 league play when they host Ontario Bay at 6 p.m. Thursday, with both games at the Fairgrounds Arena.
O’Brien is looking forward to the experience of coaching again and excited for his players as well.
“It’s a learning process for us, too,” O’Brien said of him and his coaches. “These guys are working them hard and they’re loving it. They’re learning new systems ... And I told them ‘we’re going to make your brain active, as well as your body and you might even have fun doing it.’”
O’Brien also enters the high school coaching ranks with the somewhat unique perspective of so many years experience working as a hockey referee and official.
“There’s some players out there that over the years, I probably used to put them or their brothers in the penalty box or even coached some of their fathers,” O’Brien said with a laugh. “So I think this should be fun.”
SECTION 3 BOYS
Immaculate Heart Cavaliers
Coach: James O’Brien
2018-19 record: 4-14 overall, 2-10 league
Roster: Connor Clement (Sr., F), Cole Grant (Sr., D), Gabe Horner (Sr., F), Donovan Howard (Sr., F), Nick Spicer (Sr., F), Carson Barrett (Jr., F), Brennen Derouchie (Jr., D), Tieler Friedline (Jr., G), Tristen Gilbert (Jr., D), Kyle Hughes (Jr., D), David Jenner (Jr., F), Ethan Johnston (Jr., F), Morgan Milkowich (Jr., F), Colton Young (Jr., G), Nate Gray (So., D), Joey Harvill (So., D), Garrett Hudon (So., F), Gabe Vassallo (So., G), Ben Wiley (So., D), Luc Lafex (Fr., F), Mick O’Donnell (Fr., F), Jayden Romig (Fr., F), Julian St. Croix (Fr., F).
Ontario Bay Storm
Coach: Steve Olson
2018-19 record: 1-18, 1-11
Roster: T.J. Guarasce (Sr., F), Ethan Hollister (Sr., F), Korbyn Molello (Sr., F), Christopher Olson (Sr., F), Zairrin O’Neil (Sr., F), Gabe Smith (Sr., D), Ian Smith (Sr., F), Jared Willis (Sr., D), Casey Wilson (Sr., F), Bryce Dafoe (Jr., G), Caeden Goodnough (Jr., F), Ryan Mosher (Jr., F), Ethan Rehley (Jr., D), Matthew Olson (So., D), Riley Ballou (Fr., F), Zach Blevins (Fr., D), Joe Brodeur (Fr., F), Dawson Cory (Fr., F), Bryce Goodnough (Fr., F), Eric Mashaw (Fr., F), Julia Hollister (8th gr., G).
NORTHERN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE
Canton Golden Bears
Coach: Anthony Lovato
2018-19 record: 16-5-1, 7-3 division
Roster: Peter Coakley (Jr.), Joshua Aldous (Fr.), Nolan Bombard (Fr.), Logan Carrier (Fr.), Cade Chezum (Fr.), Bradley Frank (Fr.), Nate Romano (Fr.), Dustin Dodd (Jr.), Connor Snell (Sr.), Aiden Hoose (Jr.), Garritt Palmer (8th), Rodger Premo (Fr.), Trey Bessette (Jr.), Brandon O’Shea (8th), Hayden Todd (So.), Daniel Mahoney (So.), Corbin Ladison (So.), Charles Grandaw (Jr.), Parker Hunt (Jr.), Kobe Wells (Jr.), Justin Brabant (Sr.), Zach Frank (Sr.), Nic James (Sr.), Shamus Johnson (Sr.), Robert Reed (Sr.), Scotty Ahlfeld (So.), Kaden Baxter (So.), Cayden Cady (So.), Tanner Hazelton (So.), Andrew Johnson (So.), Douglas Premo (Fr.).
Massena Red Raiders
Coach: Mike Trimboli
2018-19 record: 13-8, 6-4.
Roster: Ben Rogers (So. G), Matt Trimboli (Sr. D), Nicholis Morrell (Sr. D), Ryan Frost (Jr. D), Garrett Engstrom (Sr. F), Chris Marasco (Fr. F), Patrick Barclay (Jr. F), Adam Rufa (So. D), Nicholas Linstad (Sr. F), Aidan Aldous (Fr. D), Jacob Smutz (Fr. F), Zack Barney (So. F), Zack Monacelli (Jr. F), Preston Oneil (Jr. F), Ryan Letham (So. D), Connor Terry (So. F), Caleb D’Arienzo (Jr. D), Payton Puente (Fr. F), Michael Kuhn (Sr. F), Zane Wilmshurst (So. D), Brendan Finnegan (So. F), Jacob Bressard (Jr. F), Dakota Allen (So. G).
Coach: Dan Dorothy
2018-19 record: 6-12-3 (2-8)
Roster: Zach Kirka (Sr. D), Tyler Berkman (8th F), Kole Wright (Sr. F), Michael Bunstone (Sr. D), Drew Talcott (Jr. D), Logan McCargar (Jr. F), Michael Keleher (Jr. F), Derek Grant (Jr. F), Tyler Scott (So. D), James Sullivan (Fr. F), Aiden DiMarco (Fr. F), Sam Reynolds (Fr. F), Owen Bartell (Sr. D), Romano Sergi (Sr. F), Bryan Jones (So. F), Sam Helenbrook (Sr. F), Eoin Ingersoll (Fr. D), Adam DiMarco (Jr. F), Will Varney (Jr. F), Thomas Barstow (Sr. D), John Duffy (8th F), Ben White (Jr. F), Cole Eakins (Sr. G), Danner Dorothy (Sr. F).
Coach: KC Kittle
2018-19 record: 6-13-2, 4-7-2
Roster: Joe Duda, Zach Eckert, Morgan Fox, Nick Fox, Hunter Garnsey, Joe Getman, Rees Gray, Clayton Hall, Owen Johnson, Traigh Kittle, Jacob Lynch, Sam Madison, Dan Moore, Chris Ogden, Joseph Papin, Terin Thomson, Brandon Unstead, Chris Wetterhahn.
Coach: Kevin St. Hilaire
2018-19 record: 2-16-3, 2-8-3
Roster: Carson Roy (So. G), Jacob Harning (Sr. D), Connor Malark (Sr. F), Jack Monette (So. F), Owen Burditt (Fr. F), Owen Eells (Jr. F), Aadam Fakir (Sr. F), Trent King (Jr. F), Callahan Rogers (Sr. D), Nolaan Hunerford (8th F), Ryan Reville (Sr. F), Dawson Miletich (So. F), Dominic St. Hilaire (So. F), Seth Lockwood (So. F), Cooper Monette (Fr. D), Eli Race (So. D), Owen Lockwood (So. D), Mitchell Miletich (Sr. F), Harrison Hungerford (So. F), Edmund Collins (Fr. F), Jeremiah Scharf (So. G), Matthew Hadlock (Fr. D), Michael Burke (So F).
Coach: Doug LaVigne
2018-19 record: 15-7-1, 10-3
Roster: Stephen Wagstaff (Sr. G), Matt Reid (Fr. D), Jude Lauzon (Sr. D), Ben Averill (Jr. F), John McCall (Sr. F), Jayden Grant (Jr. F), Rhett Ashley (So. D), Cade Van Buren (Sr. D), Reed Gravlin (Sr. F), Bobby Voss (Jr. F), Keegan Newtown (So. D), Ryley Ashley (So. F), Matt Greene (So. F), Brody Vanburen (Jr. F), Joey Greene (Sr. F), Colin Bromley (Fr. G), Thomas Cafarella (Jr. G), Graham Hill (So. G).
OFA Blue Devils
Coach: Jonathan Frederick
2018-19 record: 12-9-1, 8-5
Roster: Tegan Frederick (7th), Nate Woods (8th), Dylan Irvin (Fr.), Griffin Wert (Fr.), Gunnar McLellan (Fr.), Ian Sovie (So.), Derek Barr (So.), Karson LaRose (Jr.), Jack Mills (Fr.), Drew Costello (So.), Kaleb Spears (So.), Keighan Sias (Jr.), Timothy McLellan (Jr.), Andrew Mills (Sr.), Stephen Morley (Sr.), Holden Woods (So.), Gabriel Clark (Fr.), Harrison Wert (Sr.), Trent Lovely (So.), Nolan O’Donnell (Sr.), Mark Barr (Sr.), Chase Jacobs (So.), Landin McDonald (Fr.), Kelson Hooper (Sr.), Drew Piercey (So.).
St. Lawrence Larries
Coach: Mickey Locke
2018-19 record: 3-12-5, 2-8-3
Roster: Jonah Burnett (Jr. G), Josh Lyon (So. F), Brendan Phippen (Sr. F), Noah Adams (Sr. D). Ryan LaPage (Sr. D), Charlie Dow (8th F), Evan Smith (Fr. F), Andrew Lamora (Fr. D), Mason Frary (So. F), Connor Foster (So. D), Kade Hayes (So. D), Ashton Adams (Fr. F), Tyler Svarczkopf (Jr. F), Logan Shantie (Sr. F), James Gardner Jr. (Sr. F), Rotonhnahere Silver (Jr. F), Connor Provost (8th F), Zach Strawser (Fr. G), Matt Smith (Jr. D), Jarrett St. Hilaire (Sr. F), Jace Dutch (Fr. G), Torran Robertson (Sr. G).
Salmon River Shamrocks
Coach: Tim Cook
2018-19 record: 13-9, 9-4
Roster: Rick Chatland (Fr. G), Stone Chubb (Jr. F), Connor Dishaw (Fr. F), Zach Durant (Jr. F), Evan Collette (Fr. F), Chase Lewis (Fr. F), Tim Cook Jr. (Sr. F), Cobie Cree (Sr. D/F), Ethan Moulton (So. D/F), Kade Cook (Fr. D/F), Kyler Johnson (Sr. F), Raven Conners (Sr. D/F), Jared Showen (Jr. F), Alexander Oakes (Sr. F), Ryan Oakes Jr. (Jr. G), Ian French (Sr. F), Luke Miller (Fr. G), John Miller (Jr. G), Crayton Cree (So. G), Tehanerahtaiens Barnes (So. G), Gavin Cook-Avery (Jr. D), Connor Lewis (Jr. D/F), Eystn Wylie (So. F).
NORTHERN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE
Canton Golden Bears
Coach: Anita Francis
2018-19 record: 2-14, 0-6
Roster: Ava Murphy (8th), Emily Estabrooks (8th), Olivia Logan (So.), Phoebe Zagrobelny (Jr.), Katherine Smith (So.), Isabelle Ashley (Jr.), Emma Champman (So.), Autumn Wilson (So.), Chloe Baxter (8th), Katie Fobare (Jr.), Lucy DeCoteau (8th), Mackenzie Spencer (Jr.), Quinn Woodward (So.), Sarah Rodee (So.), Cate DeCoteau (So.), Jhenna Baxter (So.), Sydnee Francis (9th), Hadleigh Thornton (Jr.), Hayley Irish (Jr., Harley Hanson (Jr.), Leah Foote (Jr.), Jaedyn Awan (Fr.), Bree Rogers (So.), Mackenzie Wiggins (8th).
Coach: Brian Hudon
2018-19 record: (5-9-1 in Section 3).
Roster: Kamryn Barnes (Sr., D), Miranda Bert-Brown (Sr., F), Renzi Youngs (Sr., F/D), Jenna Christopher (Jr., G), Ashlee Ferency (So., F), Kali Finley (So., F), Carrie Getman (So., F), Emily Sutton (So., D), Ali Swenson (So., D), Julianne Angus (Fr., F/D), Jalynn Castro (Fr., F), Kylie Cushman (Fr., F), Meka Robbins (Fr., F), Sophia Watts (8th gr., F).
Massena Red Raiders
Coach: Greg Paquin
2018-19 record: 6-16, 2-4
Roster: Hailey Boyce (Fr. G), Tewenhniserathe Norah Benedict (Fr. D), Ella Oakes (So. F), Taylin Armstrong (Fr. F), Margaret Wilmshurst (Sr. F), Ainsley Cromie (8th D), Lia Lazare (Fr. F), Aayliah White (Jr. F), Brooke Terry (8th F), Kylie Letham (Sr. F), Mackenzie LaClair (Jr. D), Grayce Trimboli (Jr. F), Emma Kormanyos (Sr. F), Hannah Chilton (Jr. F), Audrey Hurlbut (Fr. D), Lindsey LaDue (Sr. F), Sabella Cromie (So. D), Millie King (Jr. D), Mackenzie Garrow (So. G).
Coach: Joe Stark
2018-19 record: 16-3, 5-1
Roster: Madilyn Tessier (8th G), Leah Guerard (So. F), Lauryn Bigwarfe (Fr. F), Jilliana Hunter (So. F), Megan McCarthy (So. F), Keegan McGaheran (8th F), Isabel Boyd (Fr. F), Megan Reichhart Saber (Jr. D), Olivia Hunter (Sr. F), Anna Nelson (So. F), Danielle Emerson (8th D), Karley Green (Jr. F), Joella Dumers (So. F), Grace Theodore (Fr. F), Sophie Compeau (Jr. F), Sophie Lauzon (So. D), Kennedy Emerson (Fr. F), Jessika Bullock (Fr. D), Keely Towne (Jr. F), Madison Weaver (So. D), Ava Johnson (Fr. G).
Salmon River Shamrocks
Coach: Kara Newtown
2018-19 record: 16-3, 5-1
Roster: Sierra Norton-Glen (So.), Hannah Johnson (So.), Autumn Benedict (Sr.), Myranda Collette (Jr.), Joryan Adams (Fr.), Brycelan Sunday (Fr.), Rylee Garrow (Sr.), Olivia Moulton (Sr.), Jaryn Chubb (So.), Karli St. Ann (Sr.), Makhia Snyder (Jr.), Emma Gibson (Jr.), Talynn Wylie (Jr.), Kayla Cunningham (Jr.), Julia Oakes (Jr.), Emma Stehlin (So.), Alexis Seymour (Sr.), Emma Ransom (Jr.), Carli Cartier (Sr.), Karahkwenhawe White (Jr.).
Coach: Scott Marlow
2018-19 record: 2-13-2, 0-5-1 league
Roster: Gina Norcross (So. G), Abby Monette (Fr. D), Alyx St. Hilaire (Fr. F), Whitney St. Hilaire (8th F), Courtney Boyea (Sr. D), Julia Perras (So. F), Grace St. Mary (8th F), Olivia Cook (Fr. F), Cameran Stone (So. F), Claudia LaPlant (So. D), Vail St. Hilaire (Fr. F), Breigh Nelson (Jr. F), Murphy Maguire (7th D).