January 10, 2013

Small College Notebook: Undefeated season an unstated goal

By Steve Solloway ssolloway@pressherald.com

BRUNSWICK - Each passing second in the third period felt like a splinter pushed deeper under its skin. The Bowdoin College men's hockey team was getting closer to losing its first game of the season, its 10-game win streak and its ranking among the best in the country.

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Tim McGarry

Creative Images Photography

The University of New England, a young program with a losing record this season, was Tuesday's opponent, playing on the road and out of its league. The Nor'easters had a one-goal lead.

Behind the Bowdoin bench, Terry Meagher checked his team's pulse. All coaches of unbeaten teams want to see how their players respond when things are going badly. Now in his 30th season at Bowdoin, Meagher was no different.

Bowdoin rallied to score twice in the last period. Harry Matheson got the game winner, taking a pass from Tim McGarry, who had scored earlier in the game. Bowdoin won 4-3 to remain the lone unbeaten team in Division III hockey.

"There's a fine line between self-confidence and a degree of hubris and balalancing that off with humility," said Meagher on Wednesday. "Looking at my team, I knew they wouldn't give up but they also had a lot of respect for the other guys. You could feel all that going through the line afterward, shaking hands. The other guys knew they gave us their best game."

Bowdoin has a legacy of championship seasons and winning seasons. Perfect seasons? That's not something Meagher or McGarry cared to talk about late Wednesday afternoon. Meagher's record at Bowdoin in an enviable 487 wins, 224 losses and 48 ties. Yet he has never coached an undefeated season.

"Being undefeated doesn't really mean anything," said McGarry, a senior defenseman.

He considered what he just said.

"Well, I guess it does at the end of the season. But going undefeated isn't something we set out to do. We were fortunate to have a game like last night. It was a bit of a wake-up call."

They had come back from a road trip against tough New England Small College Athletic Conference opponents Hamilton and Amherst. Friday, Wesleyan comes to the Sid Watson Arena on the Bowdoin campus, followed by Trinity on Saturday. UNE, an ECAC East conference team with a 3-9-0 record, was sandwiched in between the NESCAC action.

After opening the season with a win, Bowdoin tied Middlebury 4-4, back on Nov. 17. Eleven straight victories have followed.

Meagher all but shrugs. His players made a commitment, he says. The unbeaten season reflects a "reasonable skill set, leadership and team culture." The streak is secondary to the readiness he wants his team to have for the stretch run to the conference playoffs and a bid to the NCAA tournament.

After 30 years Meagher is still known to those outside the Bowdoin community for the intensity he brings to hockey. He's all-in, all the time.

But he's not above making a friendly wager. He and McGarry made a bet last season. If the defenseman scored 10 goals, Meagher would wear the Irish driving cap McGarry favors on the bench during games.

"I was stuck on nine for four games," said McGarry, who grew up in Kennett Square, a suburb of Philadelphia. Meagher, conscious of the bet, would yell at his player to pass, pass, pass when the puck was on his stick near the opponent's goal.

(Continued on page 2)

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