Andover Boys Varsity Hockey qualified for the Massachusetts Super 8 tournament as the number five seed after a season of controversy and confusion for players, coaches, and parents alike.
The MIAA Super 8 tournament puts against each other the top eight teams in Massachusetts determined by a selection committee. In their first playoff game on Wednesday, Feb. 28, Andover suffered a devastating loss to fourth-seeded Hingham, falling 2-1 in overtime. This moved Andover into the elimination bracket, where they once again were bested in overtime by eighth-seeded St. John’s Shrewsbury, 3-2.
Although the Golden Warriors were unable to make a run in the postseason, making the Super 8 was a major accomplishment for the program. Andover finished the season with a 13-5-2 regular season record and was given a chance to compete for the MA State Title for the first time in the tournament’s 28-year history.
What was even more impressive was that Andover did so following a tumultuous season, to say the least. According to a report by CBS Local News, on January 24, Andover Head Coach Chris Kuchar and two assistants were placed on administrative leave by AHS Principal Philip Conrad. This happened after allegations came out that the coaches were denying food and water to players as punishment for losing games. Someone reportedly went to Massachusetts Department of Children and Families with the claims, leading to an immediate investigation.
On February 16, more than three weeks after the coaches were indefinitely suspended, CBS Local News reported that Kuchar and his fellow assistants had been reinstated following investigations by DCF and a private agency hired by Principal Conrad found all charges to be false. The three coaches were welcomed back with open arms, by the players at practice. “When [Kuchar] came back to practice we all gave him a hug,” said freshman forward Shane Lachance, “so [it was] good to have him back for the right time of the year.”
Coach Kuchar addressed how all of the adversity the team faced throughout the season seemed to affect the players: “From what I’ve seen, it pulled the guys together. They were without their coaches for three, almost four weeks, and when we came back they seemed to be pulling for each other.”
Despite losing the coaching staff for a large portion of the season, Andover tried to play through the distractions. Freshman player Sam Murray talked about how the team was able to maintain focus on making the playoffs during that time: “We just focused on winning.”
Following the coaches’ return, the Golden Warriors went on an incredible push for the playoffs, winning four straight games against some of the top teams in the state to close out the season and secure the number five seed heading into the Super 8.
Senior Captain Jake Lachance (older brother to Shane) said, “At first it was challenging to focus when everything was going on. We lost a few games and got frustrated but we changed our attitude. In the end we were motivated to play for our coaches because of all they went through and that is why we were able to string some important wins together at the end of the season.”
He added, “I think we all handled ourselves as well as we could when our coaches were suspended. We could have folded when that happened but instead we became closer because of it.”
During the time that Kuchar and his associates were on leave, Peter Loring, the Andover Boys JV-A head coach, took the same spot on varsity. Coach Kuchar did say that he was able to stay in contact with the replacement coaches while suspended, but “most importantly…the seniors, they understand the process…they knew the things that we work on…they just kind of took it upon themselves to make sure they continued that.”
Although Andover fell short in their debut to the Super 8, the strong presence of freshman on this year’s team (5 in total), suggests a potentially bright future for the program. A record of more than almost 70 kids tried out this year according to Coach Kuchar, who said, “You hope that the kids that are maybe thinking about going to a private school might want to stay and play for their hometown.”
By Oscar Bunting, with additional reporting by Alexander Durham