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Dutcher Eager to Start Season as Holliston’s New Hockey Coach

Jan 29, 2021 11:20AM ● By Ken Hamway

Framingham Fire Chief Mike Dutcher is Holliston High’s new ice hockey coach.

When Mike Dutcher was four years old, he told his mother that one day he’d be Framingham’s fire chief. That prediction came true last April when the Framingham native was selected as chief at age 50. What Dutcher didn’t tell his mom was that he’d eventually become Holliston High’s varsity hockey coach. That selection occurred last October, also at theage of 50.

It’s quite a coincidence but it seems like the 2020 calendar was all about Dutcher leaving his role as an assistant on two fronts — he was Framingham’s assistant fire chief for four years and he was a varsity assistant for the Panthers for two years. The two promotions now put him in charge of both venues.

“My father was a captain in the Framingham Fire Department and I started my firefighting career in 1998,’’ Dutcher said. “I moved up the ranks during the last 23 years. At Holliston, I was Dan Geary’s assistant but took the varsity post when he stepped down. Coaching at Holliston should be a smooth transition because I’ve got a good connection with the kids.’’

Dutcher’s ice hockey background is a study of paying his dues in supportive roles. He was a youth hockey coach in Framingham in the 1980s, later was an assistant for 18 years at Framingham High and he even worked as Catholic Memorial’s freshman coach for one season.

Dutcher’s playing career unfolded at Marian High when the school competed in the Catholic Central League. He played football and hockey all four years and was a senior captain in both sports. A wide receiver and cornerback in football, he was a two-time, all-star forward in hockey. “I played a grinding style on the ice,’’ Dutcher said. “Our teams at Marian weren’t very successful. My best season was my junior year when I scored 20 goals and had 30 assists.’’

Holliston’s new coach, who has eight years of military service, knows what attributes he prefers in prospective skaters, focuses solely on team goals and has a keen competitive philosophy.

“I want our kids to be good people and good students first,’’ Dutcher said. “Then I want them to be good hockey players who are committed to our program. My goals this year, with covid-19 still affecting us in many ways, are to be competitive and work hard every day. If the kids are reaching their potential and having fun, then winning will follow. What I like in my players are an aggressive style, solid skating techniques, athleticism, a strong work ethic, speed, a high hockey IQ and passion for the sport.’’

Ice hockey at Holliston unfortunately got underway late. Pre-season practice was delayed until Jan. 11 and the Panthers opening game came after Local Town Pages deadline. Holliston opened its season on Jan. 20 against Norwood at Loring Arena. 

“It was great to get back on the ice,’’ Dutcher said. “The kids showed lots of enthusiasm and energy. We’re all appreciated to be back because our student-athletes worked hard preparing for the season. The safety and health of our student-athletes, the greater school community and the Town of Holliston are the highest priority.’’

The squad Dutcher inherited has strengths — strong goaltending, experience on offense, a strong work ethic and commitment. “We need to improve our defense,’’ he said. “Since three of last year’s defensemen graduated, we have only one returnee on the back line. I like defensemen to contribute to our offensive attack.’’

Holliston’s captains are quality leaders who’ll be prime-time contributors. They include seniors Nico Quatromoni (goalie), Kevin Balewicz (center), and Christian (Schneeloch (wing), and junior defenseman Ryan Dutcher, the coach’s son. 

“Nico has excellent instincts,’’ Dutcher said. “He’s a high-level player who works hard in practice on his craft. Kevin is also a hard-worker. We have high expectations that he’ll be a consistent goal-scorer. He’s got good hands and a hard shot. Christian grinds it out, scraps around the net and delivers in clutch situations. Ryan is our only regular returning on defense. He’s skilled, moves the puck well, is good in transition and has good hands. We hope he’ll score goals.’’

Two senior forwards who’ll be in the rotation are Hunter McElhinney and Joe Williams. “Hunter is skilled and he can score,’’ Dutcher said. “Joe is a lunch-pail guy with a strong work ethic.’’

A trio of sophomore forwards who’ll no doubt get regular shifts are Nick Larche, Rhys Duncan and Jonah Feldman. “We need them to contribute,’’ Dutcher said. “Julian Payne, a junior, will be on defense. He’ll get playing time because he’s got offensive skills and moves the puck well.’’

Modifications to hockey forced by covid-19 have been minimal. Two changes are on faceoffs and scrums. Opposing players must be six feet apart until referees signal the drop of the puck. And, when more than two players are battling for possession, a faceoff will be called when a scrum numbers three or more skaters. Also, masks must be worn while playing, social distancing is required on the bench, crowd size will be limited and no locker-room presence will be available.

“We’ll adjust to any changes,’’ Dutcher said. “We’re fortunate to be playing. Any games are better than no games.’’

When the Panthers do get under way, they’ll be facing Tri Valley League large division  teams. “Westwood, Medfield and Norwood will be major challenges,’’ said Dutcher, who lives in Milford with his wife Stephanie and two sons. “They’ve got lots of returnees, they’ve got tradition and they’re well-coached. Hopkinton is also in the mix.’’

Dutcher is eager to get started and is prepared to teach life lessons, such as leadership, commitment, teamwork and overcoming adversity.

As fire chief, Dutcher has 150 employees on his payroll and it’s interesting what he says about those who have athletics in their background.

“Those who’ve played sports tend to be model employees,’’ he noted. “They understand the need to work together. They help people and when they do, they put any differences aside.’’

Mike Dutcher is a coach with superb perspective and a willingness to instill top-notch qualities in his players.  

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