Winslow Townson for The Boston GlobeHe could be found as a spectator at nearly every Malden Catholic game this season, but when the Lancers received the Super 8 championship trophy at TD Garden Sunday, coach Chris Serino was able to take his rightful place with them on the ice.
“He whispered in my ear that he’s very proud, he loves all the kids, he loves the coaching staff,’’ coach John McLean said. “It means a lot for us to be able to do that for him.’’
A whisper was more the enough given his condition.
The battle with throat cancer that has kept Serino off the bench this season forced him to watch the Lancers’ 3-1 victory over BC High from a private box high above the ice, and gave Malden Catholic something to play for other than back-to-back titles.
“We had that in the back of our minds the whole time,’’ said senior Brendan Collier, whose second-period goal pulled Malden Catholic back from a 1-0 deficit. “We took it upon ourselves to get it done for us but especially for him.
“We got a man up in the stands whose fighting cancer, he’s doing what he has to do, and we had to get the win for him.’’
The beloved coach known for his ferocity on the bench and big heart off it, was well aware of the emotional toll his illness took on the players this season, and did his best to keep spirits on the team high.
“No matter how sick he was he was always there with us, at practice and at games,’’ Collier said. “I think seeing his face around the locker room was reassuring for everyone on the team.
“We talked everyday, he texted me everyday. When I wasn’t seeing him I was on the phone with him . . . talking to him every day was just a relief, knowing that he can go out of his way, that means he’s not sitting there very sick . . . it was a great feeling.’’
McLean knows firsthand the impact that Serino can have on a young man like Collier. He first coached with Serino at Merrimack College, but their relationship dates back to McLean’s own school days and the various local youth hockey camps that Serino was involved with at the time.
“When it comes down to it, he loves winning, but he loves the kids,’’ McLean said. “He’s a first-class guy and I’m just happy that the kids were able to do this for him.’’
With the pressure to repeat on the team’s shoulders compounded by the seriousness of Serino’s illness - a mental roller coaster in McLean’s words - discussing the future of the coaching staff was not a top priority this season.
“This was our goal, we’ll enjoy it today and we’ll talk sometime next week,’’ McLean said. “But right now it’s helping Chris get through his treatments, that’s the next coaching job for us.’’
No one right now, maybe not even Serino himself, knows if he will be back on the Lancers’ bench anytime soon, but regardless of where he sits during practices or games, his presence is felt by the players at all times. As if the players would ever forget, McLean had one message that they heard repeatedly this season.
“He’s here every day,’’ McLean said. “You might not see him, but he’s here.’’