In his 28 years of coaching high school hockey, Bob Conceison has seen a lot. He’s won a lot, too. After three years at the helm of his alma mater, Malden Catholic, Conceison has spent the last 25 seasons behind the bench of the Burlington High boys hockey team. With the Red Devils 3-1-1 through their first five games this winter, Conceison is three wins away from 300 with the program.
While that victory total speaks for itself, it’s the number of years as Burlington coach that Conceison said he is more proud of.
“It means I’ve been associated with a good program,” said Conceison, who is a young looking 60. “It means I’ve needed the support of the administration, the town, the school and the community, and I’ve had that.”
This year has been a unique one for Conceison. He retired from teaching in June, having spent 35 years as an English teacher at BHS, and being out of the classroom has been an adjustment.
“It’s been very different for me,” said Conceison. “I do miss the daily interaction with the players and with all the students at Burlington High School. Coaching allows me to stay connected to the kids.”
Conceison coached the BHS girls soccer team for 12 years, and has spent the last three fall seasons in charge of the Red Devils golf team. Burlington has made the MIAA Division 2 North sectional all three seasons.
Conceison said Thursday that, with his teaching career now over, he will assess his desire to coach on a “year by year” basis.
“I want to coach as long as I’m enjoying it and have a passion for it, which I certainly still do,” said Conceison.
On the ice, Conceison’s teams have won two Middlesex League titles. In 2009, the Red Devils advanced to the Super 8 championship game, falling to Catholic Memorial at the TD Garden.
A very good goalie at MC, Conceison is a hockey man through and though.
“I enjoy going to the rink everyday, so I think that’s helped me get through this first stage of my retirement,” he said.
Steve Mattos, a defenseman and senior co-captain for Burlington, said he and his teammates look forward to adding to the program’s legacy by helping their coach achieve the 300-win milestone.
“There have been a lot of good teams before us,” said Mattos. “Every senior class leaves a mark on the program, and that would be ours.”
Conceison will go for win No. 298 Saturday at 4 p.m. at Stoneham against the Spartans. That’s the start of a difficult stretch in the quest for 300, as following that are games against Wakefield (Jan. 11), at Watertown (Jan. 14), at Woburn (Jan. 16), and at Wilmington (Jan. 21).
CONNOLLY A GEM FOR WOBURN HIGH GIRLS TEAM
The two goals surrendered by the Woburn High girls hockey team in Wednesday night’s 4-2 win over Lexington were the first it had allowed in five games this season.
Junior defenseman Cassandra Connolly has been a major factor in that impressive record.
After two good seasons for the Tanners, Connolly has taken another step forward this year. Head coach Bob MacCurtain said he trusts Connolly in any situation —power play, penalty kill, end of games — and that she has been as important to his team as anybody.
“Because we score a lot, she kinda gets overlooked,” said MacCurtain. “She’s one of the best defensemen in the league.”
Connolly stepped right into a significant role at WMHS in her freshman season, during which the Tanners made an improbably post-season run to get to the MIAA Div. 1 state championship game at the TD Garden. Last year, with Connolly again getting regular shifts, Woburn gave up less than a goal per game.
“She’s been good since she got here,” said MacCurtain. “What she really brings to the team is her leadership. She’s good at getting everyone together and making sure we’re all on the same page.”
While she is now one of the more experience players on the team, Connolly said she is just one of its many leaders, adding that it starts with senior co-captains Bryana Harron and Maura O’Brien.
“There’s definitely a lot of leadership on this team,” said Connolly. “It’s a big reason why we’ve been doing so well this season.”
Connolly is the third of five children, all of whom play or have played hockey. Her oldest brother, Cory, now plays club lacrosse at Stonehill. Cole Connolly is a senior on Woburn High’s boys hockey team (although he is out injured). Cassandra’s two younger siblings, Chad and Cassidy, also play.
Cassandra Connolly, who also plays for the Woburn High girls lacrosse team, first started skating when she was three years old. She took up figure skating as a four-year-old and then hockey a year later. She hasn’t looked back since, and hopes to play college hockey.
“I love it. I can’t picture my life without the sport,” said Connolly. “It’s been my dream to (play in college), and I’ve been working toward it.”
For now, though, the focus is on getting the Tanners back to the Garden and lifting an MIAA state championship trophy. Woburn was expected by many to get there last year, but lost in the state semifinals to Acton-Boxboro, 2-1, after defeating the Colonials 8-2 during the regular season.
Connolly admitted that loss still doesn’t sit well with her and her teammates.
“The way our season ended definitely comes up in the locker room,” said Connolly. “We’ve talked about how we want to finish our season. We know we can do it.”
UPCOMING GAMES TO WATCH
The Tanner girls (5-0) will host Arlington Saturday at 6 p.m. at O’Brien Ice Rink in a matchup of two undefeated teams. The Spy Ponders are 2-0-3, having allowed just four goals in five games and tying a very good Acton-Boxboro team 0-0 on Dec. 23. These two teams have had some good games over the last few years, and Saturday doesn’t figure to be any different.
Keep an eye on both Watertown teams. The girls, a co-op team with Melrose, are 3-1-1 with 23 goals in those five contests. The boys are off to a surprising 4-2 start, including wins over Belmont and Arlington. Both teams are at Wilmington’s Ristuccia Arena tomorrow to take on the Wildcats. The girls take the ice at noon, with the boys to follow at 2:30.
The Belmont-Winchester doubleheader should also be a good take. The Lady Marauders are 4-2, but the other three teams involved are right around .500. Action at Skip Viglirolo Rink in Belmont kicks off at 12:45 for the girls and 2:30 for the boys.
(Mark Goodman’s “Puck Stops Here” column appears during the high school hockey season.)