There are very few people who need no introduction, but Men’s Hockey Coach Terry Meagher is certainly of them, at least on this campus. In his 30th season, Meagher has won an astounding 495 games, 22nd all time among coaches in the history of men’s collegiate ice hockey. Over the course of his tenure, he has consistently attracted talent to Brunswick and deployed innovative strategies for sealing wins. This year is no different for Meagher, as men’s ice hockey now has the most wins since the 1988-1989 season, and was ranked as high as second in the nation. The team is currently the No. 1 seed in the NESCAC championship, and will face Middlebury this Saturday.
But Meagher is more than just a coach, and his 30 years at Bowdoin add up to more than just a successful career. Students cite his easy-going attitude and intense pride for anything Bowdoin-related as reasons behind his significant influence in the lives of generations of students, even those outside of the hockey program.
Hockey in his blood
Born and raised in the blue-collar town of Belleville, Ontario, Meagher is one of nine children. Like many of his siblings, Meagher grew up on the pond.
“Every Saturday morning, we were basically told to get out of the house at nine o’clock,” he said. “We would get out on the rink and play until the sun went down. Hockey was a part of our fabric and a part of who we were.”
Meagher fell in love with the game and was eventually recruited to play at Boston University under legendary coach Jack Parker. As a Terrier, he joined two of his brothers on the team, one of whom, Rick, was captain during Terry’s freshman year. Rick went on to play in the National Hockey League for 14 seasons with the Montreal Canadiens, Hartford Whalers, New Jersey Devils and St. Louis Blues. In 1990, Rick won the Selke Trophy, awarded to the league’s top defenseman. Terry shined during his career on the Terriers, helping his team earn three consecutive trips to the NCAA D-I National Tournament, notably as the lead scorer in his senior year. Meagher also received the school’s prestigious Scholar-Athlete award.
Though Meagher had many opportunities to play at the professional level, he instead chose to enroll in a master’s program at Illinois State University, where he ran a club hockey program that played at the varsity level. Following a year in Illinois, Meagher became an assistant coach at Williams College and fell in love with the role.
“At the time I was coaching three sports, it was like getting another degree,” he said. “I thought to myself, ‘This is pretty special, I can’t believe they are actually paying me to do this.’”
It was at Williams where Meagher also first experienced the essence of the D-III experience.
“I just got a taste for the D-III and the NESCAC philosophy on the student athlete,” he said. “It left an indelible mark on me and one I will never forget.”
After a year at Williams, Meagher became an assistant coach at Clarkson University in New York, a hockey powerhouse. He spent four years there, gaining experience at the D-1 level.
In 1983, Bowdoin’s Head Coach Sidney Watson decided to retire from coaching. Watson had tallied more than 326 victories over 24 seasons, and nearly built the program himself, establishing a culture of excellence. Meagher, eager to return to D-III, jumped at the opportunity and applied for the position. For Meagher, who was well aware of Watson’s stellar reputation, there was something special about the Bowdoin hockey program.
“Everyone knew about Bowdoin’s noisy fans kicking the metal in the back of the seats and throwing themselves at the glass,” he said. “It was absolutely legendary and was a big part of the hockey world.”
After seeing Bowdoin and interviewing with Watson, who was taking on the role of Athletic Director, Meagher was hired. For both Terry Meagher and the Bowdoin hockey program, a new chapter had begun.
Following a legend
“There’s a cliché in sports that you should never follow a legend,” Meagher said.
As a young coach excited for his first head coaching opportunity, Meagher also knew he was fortunate to benefit from the strong foundation Watson had built.
“There was a legend that preceded Sid Watson and his Bowdoin teams,” Meagher said. “It wasn’t just a reputation of having good, hard-working players under a sound playing structure. It was a kind of style, a standard. When one of Sid Watson’s Bowdoin squads showed up, you knew how hard they were going to play and you were going to find a pleasing game of hockey. But more importantly, you knew they would play with a high degree of sportsmanship and treat you with respect.”
Meagher and Watson quickly became close as the seasoned coach became a mentor for his successor.
“Sid was a huge help to me in the first months and not only provided me with a lot of hockey knowledge but was a role model in more ways than one,” Meagher said. “From that point on, I knew I wouldn’t be following a legend, I would be working with one.”
Players quickly noticed the respect for the system that Meagher brought. Among them was Jean Roy ’84, Bowdoin’s all-time leading scorer as a defenseman, a three-time All-American, and the only Hobey Baker Award winner—given to the top collegiate player in any division in the country—in program history.
“When Terry came in, there was something that just really stood out about him,” Roy said. “As a young coach coming from a successful D-I team, it would have been really easy for him to change the entire system and put his stamp on the program. But Terry had a tremendous respect for Sid and the history of the program. The program evolved, but slowly.”
Watson continued his role as athletic director until 1998, but he and Meagher remained close friends until Watson’s death in 2004.
From 1969 to 2000, Bowdoin was a part of the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC). The conference—which included a mix of D-I and D-II teams—was one of the most competitive in the nation, and regularly sent teams far into the D-I National Championship. Nonetheless, Meagher’s teams held their own from the start. In his very first season, the Polar Bears made it all the way to the ECAC Championship game, where they fell to Babson, 4-1.
That semifinal game against Colby was one Meagher says he will never forget. Colby was powerhouse, ranked top 10 in the nation and led by legendary coach Charlie Holt. Holt, who was a close friend of Watson’s, had been also an important mentor to Meagher.
“To this day, I owe a lot to Charlie Holt,” Meagher said. “In my opinion, he was revolutionary and was lightyears ahead of everyone else. At times, his players didn’t understand him but he would get them there. When I would talk to Charlie, it was if hockey was a completely different game.”
By all accounts, the game was set up to be a mismatch. The Polar Bears kept it close and were down by one goal with a minute to go. Meagher pulled his goalie, and thanks to the extra attacker on the ice, Bowdoin tied the game. However, the net had been moved and the referees disallowed the goal. Determined to tie the game, Meagher kept the goalie on the bench, and Bowdoin scored again to force an overtime. The Polar Bears then went on to win the game 4-3. While the win was certainly important and boosted the confidence of the rookie head coach, it was what happened after the game that really impacted him.
“We had a good team, but it was a really tough loss for [Colby],” he said. “Charlie came over and congratulated me and told me we had deserved it. He certainly didn’t like to lose, but to this day I truly believe in my heart he was genuinely happy for us–– you could see it in his eyes. That really left a profound impact on me: that sportsmanship—honoring your opponent—it is something I will never forget.
Meagher’s teams never looked back. He won the first of two ECAC championships in 1986, but admitted his most memorable moment came two years later in an ECAC quarterfinal game against American International College, a D-I team that had dominated the league.
“It was a Tuesday night but the arena was packed,” he remembered. “We were down two goals with two minutes left to play and I looked up in the stands. All these different people—including a lot of alums who had came from far away—well, they had left.”
Against all odds, Bowdoin scored two goals to tie the game. But seconds later, Tommy Aldrich ’88, who was also the star of the baseball team, won the game in the final seconds.
“I’ll never forget it. He whacked that thing like a baseball right out of the air,” Meagher recalled. “I’ve been to a lot of sporting events, but that night was the only time I have ever had to cover my ears because of the noise. The place went wild. I’ll never forget the next day, when Sid kept dialing and dialing all the alumni who had left and who hadn’t heard we had won until the next morning. He was giving them the hardest time. Their names shall remain anonymous, because if I told you who they were, they would get heckled like crazy. They know who they are. You can print that.”
Meagher’s winning ways never waned, as throughout his career he has consistently attracted top talent and made progressive changes to the program. In 1986 and 1989, he won the Edward Jeremiah Memorial Trophy, awarded to the nation’s top college coach by the American Hockey Coaches Association. In 1996, he led the Polar Bears to their first ever appearance in the eight team NCAA Division III tournament, where they returned in 2002, 2010, and 2011. In 2000, Bowdoin ended its membership in the ECAC when the NESCAC formed its own hockey league. In the thirteen seasons since, Meagher has led Bowdoin to four championship game appearances and one championship title, which was vacated in 2011 after the team was found to have hazed new members at a spring initiation event. This Saturday, Meagher will look to bring the team back to the championship game.
Innovating on the ice
Even in his rookie season, players noticed Meagher’s strong intellect.
“His intelligence and attention to detail really stood out right from the first practice,” Roy recounted. “He never missed anything. To this day, he has his little notepad and pen and when he sees something, he always makes a note. If you ever made a mistake, you would get to the bench and hoped he hadn’t seen it. But he always would and you would always hear about it the next day of practice.”
Meagher’s earliest teams were very defense-oriented. Yet, as time passed, Meagher began to try new ideas and the team’s style of play evolved. Throughout his career at Bowdoin, Meagher also coached lacrosse, soccer, and softball, and began to apply tactics from those sports to the ice.
“I took a lot of concepts from all those sports,” he explained. “In a way, that was the recipe and I seasoned it all for taste. But you look back at your assets, the strengths and skills of the different players you have, and make adjustments. Things may not always work, but you have to keep trying. It’s all about trying to get a legal competitive advantage, and if you aren’t always questioning your methods, then you will never be successful.”
Indeed, Coach Meagher’s progressive style has been a hallmark of his manner. While his teams have played in all sorts of formations, he has most recently implemented the “three back system,” a cutting edge technique in which players are tied to one position or portion of the ice.
George Papachristopoulos ’06 described the team’s reaction to the system when it was first implemented.
“We all had our doubts initially, it seemed very weird to many of us. But we all bought in,” he said.
Jeff Pellegrini, who worked as an assistant for Coach Meagher from 2009 to 2011, witnessed first hand how effective the system was.
“The one thing you notice on the bench while coaching in his system is that the opponent is extremely worried about what Bowdoin is doing rather than worrying about what they should be adjusting.”
“I think Coach Meagher was great at evaluating players, assessing their strengths, and being able to mold a group of players into a winning team,” recalled Steve Janas ‘89. “He always had talented players but was always able to elevate the level of every player. His great talent is making the team greater than the sum of its parts.”
Molding of men
A clever mind, Coach Meagher knows how to motivate his players and lead them off the ice.
As Interim Director of Athletics Tim Ryan ‘06 put it, “Terry’s had a lot of success on the ice with his program, but he’s more proud of the success that he’s had away from the rink in terms of helping young men mature and move onto bigger and better things.”
“The winning and losing is a high priority on the list for him, but its not the top priority,” said Harvard Director of Hockey Operations Dave Cataruzolo ‘98, who actually coached against his mentor in his previous post as head coach at Trinity. “His approach of hard work, determination, and what he demands of his players both on the ice and in the classroom is what makes it such a successful program year in and year out.”
Meagher challenges his players constantly by using methods like ‘The Pillow Test.’ As forward Colin Downey ‘14 explained, “every night before we go to bed, Coach asks us whether we have left everything we have out on the ice. He has always reinforced the notion to never take anything for granted and to cherish every day.”
“When players come back after 5,10, or 20 years, and tell you about how well they are doing and about their families, its a really special feeling,” Meagher said. “It’s something that resonates with me and has a profound impact on who I am. I’ve told joked to a lot of people that I will judge on how much I like a team in 20 years. And boy, I have had some really great teams.”
If you ask anyone who has ever played golf with Terry Meagher, they will always tell you how competitive he is—that’s what has kept him behind the bench all these years.
“You have to find joy in something you do in life,” Meagher said. “For those who participate in sport, there’s always a joy in physical activity, practice, and hard work. But it’s the competition we all crave and how you are able to deal with the setbacks you face that really sets people apart from one another.”
Reflecting on his 30 years at Bowdoin, Meagher expressed gratitude for the dedication of his colleagues and players.
“I will admit my experience here has been one that has been very special and I have been very fortunate and lucky to have had that. What sets Bowdoin apart from anywhere else is quite simply the people. This is an incredibly special place with amazing people. Its something that’s hard to put in words. Whenever I watch other teams play or other students succeed and represent our College, its a special sort of pride that grows every year—as if they were family. I don’t think there are better role models than the people we have on this campus and I have been very lucky to have raised my daughters here.”
When Meagher’s squad takes the ice this Saturday, he knows Bowdoin will be watching. But Meagher knows how to put it all in perspective and remember the people who helped him reach where he is today.
“We’ve had a lot of sad times over the years, but losing Sid has by far been the hardest part for me. Sometimes I pinch myself, and imagine what he would think if he saw Bowdoin today,” he said. “I imagine what it would be like to have him here this weekend, to have him see everything in his own building, to know how excited and proud he would be. But I know he has been and will be looking down.”