Last season the Spartans of St. Mary’s Lynn checked one of the three boxes in their goals for the season. With long-tenured head coach Mark Lee at the helm the team won 16 games and earned a Super 8 play-in berth. Despite coming up a few wins short of a championship, this is not unfamiliar territory for Coach Lee. He has won numerous CCL titles, taken numerous teams to the D1 North finals and won a D1 title as well. But all of those accomplishments pale in comparison to his favorite aspect of being a head coach as you can see from the interview below.
We chatted with Coach Lee about his 34 years behind the bench in addition to learning more about his returning players and their roles, last year’s seniors who have departed and his 2019-20 super sophomore defender Davis Kinne.
MassNZ: Over the past decade the Spartans have had a lot of success with a 2017 D1 Championship, two CCL championships, multiple Super 8 appearances and three runs to the D1 North finals. With the ebb and flow that is HS athletics, what has allowed St. Mary’s Lynn to remain competitive over such a long span?
Coach Mark Lee: We’re really proud of that fact – you can’t just resign these players to contracts. Every year you lose great players but the key is to continue to have a competitive schedule that the better players want to compete against. We have one of the tougher schedules in the state, then it’s all about the pride you take in the program that you run. We have a dedicated coaching staff and we really live and breathe St. Mary’s hockey. You see some players from other communities that want to come here to compete: we’ve been lucky to have that.
NZ: Last season your team racked up 16 victories, a Super 8 berth and D1 North playoff berth – how do you view last year as a whole?
Lee: Last year we had a Super 8 play-in game, we were recognized by the powers that be that we were one of the top 10 teams in the state. We did very well in our league, but it was a disappointing end to the season. We lost in double overtime to St. John’s Prep which came down to a shootout, but it was a very good season. That was disappointing to end on a shootout but I’m very proud of that team, they fought to the very end.
NZ: You had big contributions last year from four seniors Colin Reddy, Nick Napolitano, Damon Maribito and Kyle Ouelette. How did they make your team better day-to-day aside from the offensive contributions?
Lee: They were really good leaders, they led by example. They were good students and good hockey players. Colin and Nick led our team in points and contributed in other ways. They were very good leaders off the ice and that’s very important to the team’s success. You need talented players to win and they were great leaders: they got the most out of their teammates that was a big part of our success.
NZ: Last year’s freshman defenseman Davis Kinne put up a tremendous season for a blue liner…much less a player who earned minutes as an 8th grader. Can you speak to why he’s been so successful at such a young age?
Lee: He had a great season and this year his younger brother is coming in as an 8th grader. His name is Harrison and he’s a very talented defenseman who is physically as big as his brother. Davis has had success because he physically matured at a young age and he has a special talent and skill set. He is a very fierce competitor, he takes these games seriously. He stood out last year because of his physical abilities and love for the game. He is an offensive-minded defenseman, sometimes you have to reel him in because he loves to jump up. The skillset is there, both in the way he handles the puck and he has a hell of a shot. He has all of the abilities that makes a player really good. Normally sophomores start to gain playing time and experience but he has two years under his belt already. We expect big things from him this year along with Chris Kolodziej, one of our captains.
NZ: Big goalie Joe Purtell put up a dominant campaign for you last year. What kind of presence did he offer the team last year that allowed you to have the success you had?
Lee: Joe was one of the better goalies in the state last year. He had a .932 save percentage and a 1.63 goals against average for us – he was one of the better goalies out there. Defense first hockey wins games and given the way we play he did a tremendous job for us. We were sorry to see him go after the season, he was a main part of why we were so successful.
We have a transfer coming in this year: Sal Caruso from Stoneham, who was going to Austin Prep. He will be a senior for us and he is a very good, well-schooled goalie. Sal is a quality guy off the ice too and we’re excited to have him, he should help to improve both of our underclassmen. We have two sophomores who have both improved: Owen Giangrande and Sam York who will be fighting for that starting position.
NZ: Last season you were in the unique situation that many of your underclassmen contributed offensively (Colby Magliozzi, Christian Moran, Brady Carpenter, Davis Kinne). Do you feel like that trajectory will continue this season and which players will lead the way in that regard now that the seniors have graduated?
Lee: Every year we preach to them now it’s your turn. As these kids get older they realize that it’s their turn. We lost three of our top four point-getters to graduation so some of these other guys need to step up, and there is a lot of ability there. Unfortunately, Christian got hurt, he broke his femur this summer and he’s possibly out for the year. We are hoping to get him back but we are also expecting players like Owen Maguire and others to step up.
NZ: What aspects of the team this year are you excited about and what aspects do you feel may be challenging to overcome? How are your F, D, G shaping up for this coming season?
Lee: I love this team, it starts with two captains: Owen Maguire and Chris Kolodziej who are both honor roll students. That’s how you lead a hockey team. We are in a great place to start with 17 returning players from last year, although not many of them saw a ton of ice time. Some of that hopefully pays dividends as the players get bigger, stronger and faster: we have high expectations every year. Who’s going to be the next guy? Who scores the goals? Who’s going to lead our team? We pride ourselves on D-first hockey, but there are some holes to be filled.
The first couple of weeks when we get everybody back, we need to reinforce what we teach to get everyone back on track. Each year is a challenge: we have a schedule of all the top teams: there are no nights off, it’s a competitive game every time. One or two mistakes mean the difference between winning and losing. 28 out of 30 years we’ve made a tournament – it’s a lot of work.
NZ: What are your goals for this season? Have you spoken about them with the team or is it too early?
Lee: We’ve been successful as a program so the bar is high: make the tournament, make the Super 8, win a league title. When you are setting those goals, you need to get greedy: you want all of it. The competition is tough and other teams want the same things. We set the bar high: the first goal is to make the postseason. It’s what we strive for: try to be as successful as we can. But we still look to improve, we’re always trying to get better. We want to be as successful as we possibly can: there are no regrets, and we’ve been pretty good at sticking to that. You can’t win every game but the kids left it all out on the ice at the end of last season.
Building a team starts with your leadership, before you even step on the ice. Some years are better than others but the most successful years are when the players are the most focused and dedicated. Back in 2017, I remember how close that group was, it was a family. You try to cultivate that every year. It’s pretty fun to be around, the roles change every year with older kids taking younger kids under their wing. You can’t fake it, the culture has to be real.
NZ: You have a long history of coaching at St. Mary’s Lynn, with over 400 wins at the school. When you think back on your career are there a few moments that stand out?
Lee: I’ve been a head coach for 34 years and coached hundreds and hundreds of kids, that’s what keeps me going. These are great kids, when they believe in the system and what they’re doing, coaching is a lot of fun. Every year we go over what we need to but you see the leadership has grown up through it and I enjoy it a lot.
Very early on when we weren’t winning and we were building the program, those players are now in their 40s and successful in life. That to me is the biggest thing. I am a police officer in Lynn – and the next police chief here was one of my players. These players have grown into good family men and citizens.
Hockey-wise, I remember back in my 16th season we lost in OT for the D1 state championship. We felt horrible losing in OT that year but we had a huge group of players coming back. It’s so hard to get to the Garden, but we did and we won it the next year. That year was the pinnacle for me, when we went back to the Garden and won it. What a great experience: the highlight of my coaching career.