Hockey, teens, and trust

Matt Mincone looks back on 20 years of coaching.

Coach Matt Mincone, left, talks with player Tyson Araujo at the Whittemore Center, University of New Hampshire. — Courtesy Max Sherman

On Thursday I caught up with Matt Mincone at the newly renovated ice arena. Matt has been a consistent and steady voice at the helm of the boys’ varsity hockey team. Presently he’s a senior member of the coaching staff at MVRHS, and was the Division 2 Massachusetts coach of the year for 2001-02. He took time out of his busy day to reflect on hockey, the keys to success, and how our Island kids are conditioned to work hard.

Matt is known to be an intensely private and quiet man. But when it comes to hockey and his players, he is open and forthcoming. Written in huge letters above Matt’s desk in the locker room is the word “COMMIT.” The walls are adorned with a picture gallery of alumni teams and coaching highlights, including a picture of ex-Bruins coach Claude Julien and Matt side by side during a coach-to-coach moment.

Coach Mincone on that first season

My first year as head coach was in 2001, and we had just moved up to Division 2, so that meant bigger teams, more challenges … We lost in the finals of the Fairleigh S. Dickinson Jr. tournament here at home, and we reached a low point; the kids were discouraged. They were a good team with a good record, but they were disheartened, but eventually they collectively pulled it together, motivated each other, and went on to win the state championship.

As a new coach, I watched something happen. They had been knocked off their pedestal and humbled, yet in the end they represented their school, the Island, their families, and they believed in themselves.

I learned a lot from that team. In addition to being a talented team, they clicked. I’ve seen it happen over the years — teams are humbled and then they jell. They rise up to meet the opportunity; the kids step up.

On the role of trust

The locker room is a different classroom, and what I see with time is that my office becomes a confessional booth of sorts. Over the years, I’ve had players come and ask advice and share their thoughts and fears,; this is what trust is, and it is also what makes coaching so rewarding.

This is the time that makes everything worthwhile, when the players have the trust to come to me, and they know I’m willing to listen without judgment — it’s big! I’ve heard their stories, and they know mine.

Listening builds trust, whether it’s in the police station or in the locker room. Listening, understanding, helping when possible.

On Island life shaping our kids

We are a hard-working community with a strong work ethic, and sometimes it gets lost with the perception of Martha’s Vineyard being a fancy resort with million-dollar homes.

The kids on the Island have a work ethic … and if they don’t have it when they arrive, they have it when they leave. Remember, our kids are not here for something to do, there are here to do something.

Coach Matt Mincone amps up the team before a game. — John Zarba

On coaching

All the kids are here to play hockey, but each has an individual story and challenges he faced that day, so it has to be a positive environment in here, even with the pressure and commitment on ice. When I critique, I try to be fair, and there has to be a positive message, making the players believe they can, even when they are unsure of their ability. It’s been rewarding watching each player, seeing them mature, and seeing them meet their challenges when they go out in the world.

On the program in the coming years

We have a new rink, a stronger program, youth hockey has been rebuilt, there are a lot of kids coming up, the high school teams will get stronger; I’m looking forward to building on what we have already achieved. I’m looking forward to having more competition with a lot more players — tryouts will change. Having Geoghan Coogan move up to assistant coach is a great addition. He’s been committed to youth hockey in every aspect for years, and brings the same work commitment to the high school team. Over the next 10 years, I look forward to growing stronger as a coach, and a friend. I’m not here for the money.

On favorite player/coach moments

After hockey, my favorite thing is sitting down with random players and telling hockey stories. Sometimes the stories will make us laugh, sometimes they make us cry — It’s the best.

Matt Mincone has been the MVRHS boy’s varsity hockey coach for 20 years. — John Zarba

On tweed scally caps

I started wearing one to keep my words between me and the player or the ref, the way they should be. The peak on the hat shields my words, so it works; it has become a superstition for me. It’s my uniform.

On tradition and family

I inherited a tradition that I keep going; it means a lot to me. Each Christmastime Patty Mundt at Donorama’s, the garden center in Edgartown, donates wreaths to all the players who are no longer with us, and on Christmas Eve every year, I go to their graves and lay those wreaths. I hope for that moment when the family goes to the grave they know that the hockey family is always family. I feel fortunate to be doing what we do; life is short.

On Coach Mincone

Mark McCarthy is the head of athletics at MVRHS, and has worked with Matt for the past eight years: “Matt’s leadership matches the philosophy of the school; he is a true professional. His work commitment to the kids and to the program is first-class. He likes to win, we all like to win games; but it’s not to win at all costs, more so it’s to win the right way.”

Max Sherman played on two state championship teams under Coach Mincone. He is now a detective in the Tisbury Police Department, and head of the JV boys hockey program: “I remember all the times he told new team members about the 6 P’s. Proper Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance. His attention to detail and accountability is second to none. It has kept me focused and helped me plan for any of life’s unexpected events. Ever since I became a police officer, Matt has always given me advice when asked, read my reports, and checked in with me. I know that some of the win-loss records over the past 20 years may say otherwise, but Matt has won every single game he’s coached, because his priority is to be a friend first.”

Stephen Greenberg played on the MVRHS hockey team from 2003 to 2007, and was captain for his junior and senior years: “Matt taught us accountability on and off the ice, that we had to be responsible and had to work on discipline. He had a hard work ethic, and he is also a good player, and we followed his lead.

“He committed the team to community service in many areas during the season, whether it was cleaning trash or gardens, or raising money for the team; he asked us to raise the bar, and look good doing it.

“In the years I’ve known Matt, he is still making an impact both in my personal life and in my career. I just got engaged, and Matt was one of the first to congratulate me.”