February 11, 2013

From NEHJ: Chip off the old block

By  Mike Zhe

Bill Dennehy (above left) led the Phillips Exeter program from 1975 to 1992. Son Pat, shown with his dad, is in his ninth season at Choate.

When Choate hockey coach Pat Dennehy was 6 or 7, his father, Bill, who was then the head coach at Phillips Exeter Academy, took him to the sports shop in Exeter, N.H., to buy him his first hockey jersey.

“He said, ‘What number do you want?’ ” recalled Pat. “I said, ‘Dad, who’s your best player?’

“He said, ‘Scott Borek — number 18.’ I said, ‘I want 18.’ ”

Flash forward a generation, and one of the promising players on a young Choate team that stood 10-5-3 in late January is sophomore forward Charley Borek (Durham, N.H.) — No. 15 — coached by the man whose own father, Bill, coached his dad, Scott.

“It is funny,” said Scott Borek (Swampscott, Mass.), an associate head coach at the University of New Hampshire. “Pat’s great to him. I can easily see that he’ll have the same relationship with Pat that I have with Bill. He gets these kids. They can relate to him. Very similar to what I had with Bill.”

There’s more. At Choate, which is located in Wallingford, Conn., two of Pat Dennehy’s best players through the years were the Goggin brothers, Connor and Mark, who both went on to play at Dartmouth. Mark is a senior there this year while Connor is in the first year of a pro career with the ECHL’s Trenton Titans.

Their father, Mark Sr., was a teammate of Borek’s at Exeter and later at Dartmouth, and is now a director in the financial services industry in Chicago. When it came time for his own sons to choose the path to further their hockey and academic careers, placing his boys in the hands of another Dennehy was appealing. “It was hard for me, and especially for my wife, being in Chicago, to send our kids (that far away),” he said. “I thought (Choate) was the best place for them and Pat was a big influence. They’re still close to him now.”

When Choate was playing in the Lawrenceville (N.J.) tourney in December, Pat made a side trip to take in a Titans game and catch up with Connor Goggin.

“They’re exactly the same,” said Mark Goggin Sr. “Bill treated me like his son and Pat treated my sons like his sons. Both of them, hard but fair.”

After 42 years coaching and teaching at Exeter, this is the final year Bill Dennehy will be doing it full time. He’s stepping down after this spring as the school’s head baseball coach, where he guided, among others, Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Sam Fuld (Durham, N.H.). He will continue to assist Dana Barbin (Exeter, N.H.) behind the hockey bench.

Dennehy served as Exeter’s head hockey coach from 1975 to 1992, arriving a few years after construction was completed at George H. Love Gymnasium, giving the school adjacent indoor rinks, and serving as Barbin’s second-in-command after that. He also had a lengthy stint coaching soccer.

“He was very, very approachable,” said Scott Borek, who played for him in the late ’70s and early ’80s. “Playing for him was like playing for your older brother. He’d always listen to you. He tried to put people in good situations in the rink and outside the rink.”

“Just how much fun it was,” said Mark Goggin Sr., asked what he remembers the most of those Exeter days. “How much fun Bill made it and how close our team was. I’m still close friends today with many of the kids on that team. Bill created that.”

Now his son has created something of his own. It’s been a pretty nice season for a Choate team that is trying to skate with the big boys in an ultra-competitive Founders League.

The Wild Boars graduated a full complement of players off last year’s Martin/Earl (large school) playoff team, but have been competitive again, with wins over Westminster and Avon Old Farms and an overtime loss to Salisbury on their season résumé.

Sophomore goalie Sam Tucker, a Yale commit, has been solid in net. Upperclassmen like forwards Luke May, Mickey Foley and Owen Powers and defenseman Max Daigle have done a good job incorporating younger players, like Charley Borek, who is one of 11 sophomores.

“Right from the beginning of the year, when they came on campus, they took them under their wing,” said Pat Dennehy.

Connor Goggin — “probably the best defensemen I’ve coached in my 16 years,” said Dennehy — left Choate in 2008 and earned All-New England honors as a senior. Mark Goggin, who was a year behind him, finished his prep career with more than 100 points and was drafted by the Boston Bruins in the seventh round in 2008.

Under Pat Dennehy, who’s in his ninth season after spending seven years at the Holderness School in New Hampshire, Choate won a Martin/Earl championship in 2009-10. Many of the things he does are things he witnessed his father doing with his Exeter Academy teams a generation ago.

“I was a typical hockey rink rat,” said Pat. “Whether it was practice or games, I’d bring my stick and a tennis ball. Guys like Scott Borek and Mark Goggin became household names in our living room. My dad would talk about them all the time.”

Pat Dennehy wrapped up his playing days as Exeter’s second all-time leading scorer with 39 goals and 114 points, and went on to play at St. Lawrence. But more than the points, he took away things his father did off the ice — the way he dealt with players in the locker rooms, or the dorms, or the dinners they had at his house. A generation later, that’s translated pretty well. “Charley is very much a relationship guy,” said Scott Borek. “He succeeds when he knows people care.”

“Life’s not always great,” said Pat Dennehy. “You may be struggling academically, or having a girlfriend problem or another problem. His door was always open. It’s kind of why I wanted to do what I’m doing now.”

This article originally appeared in the February 2013 issue of New England Hockey Journal.