By Joyce Erekson
St. Mary’s boys hockey coach Mark Lee hit an impressive milestone last week when he picked up his 400th career coaching win. The Spartans delivered the milestone victory by edging Bishop Fenwick, 4-3, at Connery Rink.
Lee, who is in his 30th year as head coach of the team, credited his players and his coaching staffs over the years for the team’s success.
“I really believe it’s about how lucky I’ve been to coach these athletes. They’re hard-working, talented young men who gave me everything they had,” Lee said. “I’ve also surrounded myself with very knowledgeable and talented coaches. The thing I’ve been best at is getting the right people to work with.”
Lee also cited support from the school as a major factor in the team’s success.
“The school has been incredible for a small school,” he said. “They really put a lot of effort and money into the program. We wouldn’t be able to compete at this level without the financial commitment of the school.”
Lee’s career record (not including last night’s game against Archbishop Williams) is 401-194-68. The 1980 St. Mary’s High graduate first tested the coaching waters as an assistant coach under Don “Buff” Bastarache for two years. Bastarache was Lee’s coach at St. Mary’s his senior year. Lee’s first year as head coach was the 1986-1987 season.
“When I first started, they were on the verge of actually ending the hockey program,” Lee said. “We had come upon some tough times. There were only 14 kids in the program that first year.”
The team played an independent schedule Lee’s first three seasons and then got into the Commonwealth Conference where it remained for a number of years. After winning four consecutive North titles in Division 3, the team moved up to Division 2 and then eventually, Division 1. In its first year in Division 2, the Spartans went to the Garden where they lost to Martha’s Vineyard in the state final.
Lee said overall, the team has one nine league titles (combined Commonwealth Conference and Catholic Central League, Division 1 and 2). Since being in Division 1 the team has also qualified for the Super 8 tournament (2012) – something Lee is hoping will happen again this season. The Spartans are currently in the mix with a 14-3 record (as of last weekend).
“Those of us that remember the early years and what the program is today truly understand that the lifelong commitment Mark has made to St. Mary’s and its hockey program is truly second to none,” St. Mary’s athletic director Jeff Newhall said.
Newhall said as the team competes for a Super 8 slot this year, an accomplishment that is at the top of the Massachusetts high school hockey world, he can honestly say that if it weren’t for Lee’s determination and leadership during the 1980s and 1990s, the school may have lost its hockey program entirely.
Having hit two milestones this year (30th year coaching and 400th win) the big question is how long Lee plans to continue coaching.
“It’s just year to year at this point,” Lee said. “I’m not looking ahead to anything.”