On-ice steps for North-Souhegan

Josh Lavoie was faced with his first real challenge as a varsity head coach, a month into his first season with the North-Souhegan boys hockey team.

He somehow had to try to urge the Saber-Titans to wipe out the memory of a brutal four-game stretch in which they had been outscored 29-2.

He had to get them to realize they could still compete.

“Honestly, I asked them what it was about when we played South (Nashua South-Pelham) in that scrimmage,” Lavoie said of a night in the preseason. “Even though we lost, the smiles on their faces, it was energetic. Whatever it was, the mentality we had that game, we need to dial back into that.

“I said ‘Guys, it’s a game, it’s supposed to be fun. It’s not fun when you lose 11-0. It’s fun when you lose 3-2, 4-3. It’s not all about the wins and losses, it’s about giving your all.”

It worked. The Saber-Titans on Monday played heavily favored Concord to a scoreless two periods, before a five minute major penalty gave the Tide the opening they needed in the third period for a 5-0 win. But you can bet Lavoie’s words helped goalie Colin Duckless stand on his head for 45 saves.

But the challenge Lavoie faced so early in his head coaching career is one that a lot of high school coaches face these days. There are many mismatches in some sports, hockey especially. For example, just ask any average Division I high school girls basketball team that has to face the Bishop Guertin machine.

Nashua High School South’s girls hoop coach Doug Booth had to deal with that the other night. He’s not stranger to high school coaching with his time in the Panthers track program, but it’s a little different when your athletes see that they are down 59-10 on the scoreboard after three quarters.

But Booth handled it great afterward, because he saw the night as a learning tool.

“It (the Guertin press) is hard to duplicate in a practice,” Booth said. “They gave effort. I’m proud of my girls every night. They fought. They kept fighting all the way through. You saw the last two seconds, they had a steal. … We’re not out of it (fighting for a tourney berth) by any means. We don’t have an easy road ahead of us, we still have some work to do, but we’ll be there in the end.”

Give coaches like Booth and Lavoie credit. It’s not easy to talk positive immediately after a negative. The other night, Lavoie’s team got crushed 11-0 by the school he used to coach as an assistant, Bishop Guertin. He’d been on a bench that was on the other half of those routs. It would have been easy for him to wish for the good ol’ days.

Instead, he said, “I definitely valued my time at BG, but I’m definitely enjoying my time right now with the Saber-Titans.”

Even in defeat, he enjoyed it a little more on Monday.

“They have the mentality when they’re down, ‘Oh, here we go again,'” Lavoie said. “But when they don’t have that mentality, we can compete. We can compete against anyone. Even against Concord we competed. They dominated possessions but (for two periods) we kept the puck out of the net.”

The problem is the culture of frustration gives the chance that the wheels can come off at any time, which they did on Monday.

But Lavoie left Conway Arena with a little bit of a different feeling than he had the last week-plus.

“Last week was a little rough,” he said. “But now I see the potential back in them.”

In games when you know the mismatches exist, you take the satisfaction in that. North-Souhegan is off for nine days now until back to back matchups against locals Alvirne and top rival South-Pelham.

That’s when Lavoie will want to see the same look in his players that he saw six weeks ago. It’s all part of the job of high school coaching when the playing field is uneven more often than not.