Few programs can boast the kind of success Canton Youth Hockey has enjoyed over the past few weeks. But it’s not so much the remarkable four — yes, four — state championships this month, but also the long view that Canton’s magical March is a byproduct of and the way its program has been humming along over the recent past.
Nick Maffeo grew up playing in the Canton Youth Hockey program as a youth hockey player. These days, in addition to playing adult puck with a couple of his Mite teammates from 1978, he’s also the proud president of CYH and parent of three — the youngest of whom, as a 12-year-old, is coming off her second state Peewee title in as many years.
A year ago, Canton won two state titles, both at the Peewee level. This year, it was four, including a Squirt title on March 11 to go along with two other Squirt championships and the Peewee championship earlier this month. Indeed, it was a pretty good year for the program of just over 500 youth players.
Maffeo traces some of the success back to one of the program’s darkest days.
During the winter of 2015 — February 28, to be exact — the roof on the town rink collapsed.
“There were people worried that the program would end up folding,” Maffeo says.
But there was also opportunity.
“In response to the loss of the rink,” says Maffeo, “there was a group of individuals in town that had been contemplating the idea of building a private facility. That really accelerated the plan.”
Accelerated, for sure.
In under a year, a two-sheet facility became not only the hockey home of Canton hockey, but also a point of community pride since the doors opened in September 2016.
“For them to be able to pull that off was amazing,” Maffeo says. “But it's a community gathering place, too. Our high school teams play out of there and it generates a lot of excitement. There’s a great vibe on a Saturday, with games and practices going on and a nice cafe, and kids on the weekdays are doing their homework and waiting to watch hockey. People are talking and checking up on each other. So it is pretty fun.”
So how has success translated from all of that?
“I think the reason for the success, certainly the ice time helps, but also the consistency in numbers helps,” he says. “There are a lot of programs out there, but we’re a community program and people have come to love and respect the program, so we don’t lose too many kids.”
That, in turn, has led to a lot of giving back to the program.
There’s Maffeo, who has been coaching or volunteering for 25 years. There are also a number of coaches or volunteers who are still helping out even after their kids have left the program. Add that to the former youth players who return to coach and volunteer — from current high school players to skills instructor Jon Coleman, who went on to play at Boston University, followed by 14 years in the AHL, the IHL and in Europe.
“My positive experiences and memories made it a natural transition to want to get involved and give back,” says Maffeo. “That's very common in our program. We have a great mix of people that have been involved as players, and now as coaches.”
On the ice, the program’s feeder system is a robust Learn to Skate program with more than 100 young players.
“Saturday mornings, it’s all about introducing them to hockey and having some fun,” Maffeo says. “We have a great volunteer named Steve Connolly. He does a fabulous job, and we have girls from the girls’ high school team who volunteer their time to help.”
That high school girls’ team, incidentally, which is coached by Maffeo, reached the 2018 MIAA Girls Ice Hockey Division 2 state final. Each of those players have deep ties to Canton Youth Hockey.
As Maffeo points out, however, it’s not about placing the emphasis on winning.
“Winning’s great, but winning is a byproduct of hard work, talent and a little bit of luck,” he says. “Enjoying the game helps with that, too.”
Looking ahead, Maffeo sees a bright horizon in Canton.
“I think the future looks great,” he says. “We’re constantly able to bring in new volunteers who energize the program, plus a lot of long-time people, but you don’t ever want to get complacent or let things get stale. We’ve always prided ourselves on trying to make it the best experience possible.”