Malden Catholic hockey coach Chris Serino knows what it feels like when a program turns the corner, so when the Lancers tied Catholic Memorial on Jan. 20, 4-4, there would be no celebration. To some, tying the top-ranked team in the state would be sending a message to everyone else that your team had indeed reached a plateau, but the atmosphere in the Lancers’ locker room was hardly festive after the stalemate. Malden Catholic wanted the win, and anything short of that was disappointing.
A lesser team may have believed it squandered its chance for an upset, but when Malden Catholic faced CM in the rematch, it saw the opportunity to right a wrong, handing the Knights their only loss of the season, 4-3, on Feb. 8.
The win could not have come at a better time.
“Before the game, I was sitting there thinking, ‘What am I doing here?’” said Serino. “I mean, it was freezing. It felt like it was 40 below in that rink.”
But Serino would soon find out just what he was doing there, and with the win, it all became clear. His team had turned the corner. He saw it once before when he was an assistant to Dick Umile at UNH, and he was experiencing it all over again now.
“I can remember when I was at UNH, we had been successful, but we just couldn’t break through,” said Serino.
In the mid 1990s, the Wildcats were knocking on the door of college hockey’s elite, but could never seem to get in. That was until 1998, Serino’s final season with the program, when UNH rolled all the way to the Final Four.
“You never forget the excitement a win like that brings,” said Serino. “It took that program to another level. The feeling was the same after we beat CM. I really felt like we made the next step."
Serino took some time to reflect on the moment from nine years ago.
"We were up in Albany, and beat Wisconsin in the first round," said Serino. "Then we had BU in the next game. It went into overtime, and we finally won when Mike Souza and Mark Mowers, who's with the Bruins now, had a breakaway and scored. The Final Four was in the FleetCenter, so that was really exciting for us."
It was supposed to be a celebration for BU, which had made the Final Four seven times in the previous eight years. The Terriers were even scheduled to serve as the host school for the Final Four's return to Boston, and captain Chris Drury was on his way to winning the Hobey Baker Award as the best college hockey player in the nation, yet UNH spoiled the party.
That was Serino's last year at UNH as he moved on to the head coaching position at Merrimack, where he served through the 2004-05 season. When he had the opportunity to serve as AD and head coach for Malden Catholic, he jumped at it.
"When the job opened up, I talked to some people. I felt it was a great opportunity," said Serino. "I had two sons playing in high school, and two playing in college that I wanted to see play. It was really a family decision."
From there it came down to learning more about the program, and what other roles he could play at the school.
"They had three areas that I was interested in," said Serino. "They had the AD's job, they had an opening in admissions, and one in development."
Serino had experience in all three areas from his time at UNH and Merrimack, and ended up going with the AD position. Now it was just a matter of learning about the team.
"I didn't know much about the program," said Serino. "I knew about their history. They have great tradition and alumni. They were a strong team from the late 1960s to the 1970s."
Then the high school hockey landscape changed as Catholic Memorial, Matignon, and BC High ascended to the ranks of the top programs in the state in the 1970s and 1980s. These days, CM and BC High continue to slug it out, while Malden Catholic is trying to break the ranks. Last year, the Lancers qualified for the Division 1 tournament and went all the way to the Division 1 North sectional finals before losing to St. John's Prep, 5-4. It was the first time MC had qualified for the tournament in nine years. This year, the Lancers reached the Super 8 for the first time in the 18-year history of the tournament. It has been a remarkable turnaround in just two years under Serino, but he doesn't see it that way.
"It's really not about me," said Serino. "It's about the kids. We've got probably the best high school player in the state in Mike Dimare. I've been saying that all year. He leads the Catholic Conference in scoring."
What Serino believes gives the Lancers a shot a shot his team's defense, with blue-liners Dan Ahern, Nick Serino, Jared Tringale, Craig Carbonneau, and Rob Pacitti stifling the opposition.
"Our strength is definitely in our defense," said Serino.
MC opened Super 8 play with a loss to Weymouth Tuesday night. They are back in action on Sunday when they face Central Catholic in what is essentially a must-win game.