Howard Herman: Andersen was a good man and good coach
All anyone ever needed to know about Jim Andersen was that he was a man of his word.
"At some point, and it could have been at the beginning of the season, he bet us that if we won the [Western Massachusetts Division III] championship, he would shave off half his mustache," recalled Peter Lalor. "We did, and he did.
"He wore half a mustache for a week after we won that."
Andersen, who died at home in Pittsfield on May 2 at the age of 65, coached the Pittsfield High School hockey team to a state championship in 1990.
"I'm still trying to grasp it. It's such a shock," said Anthony Segala, who played defense on that state championship team.
There are good guys and there are good coaches. Jim Andersen, to me, was one of both.
Pittsfield's state championship run was my first year covering hockey for the paper. That season was quite a year for the sport. Every PHS-St. Joseph hockey game at the Boys and Girls Club was a must-see sporting event.
Andersen was a coach of young kids, a coach of high school kids and a longtime math teacher in the Pittsfield system.
"It was all about the kids moving forward," said Jody Curry, Andersen's assistant coach at Pittsfield. "That's what it was all about."
That team was the last Berkshire County squad to win a state hockey championship. In the two years following the Pittsfield win, St. Joe reached the state title game -- one in Springfield and one in Boston. This past March, Wahconah joined those two most recent teams in the rarefied air of a title game.
"You associate people with certain events, and he was a huge part of not only the high school part of it, but he was my first-ever coach in the Boys Club program too, when I was in mites," Josh Tobin said.
Like many of his teammates that I spoke two in the past week, Tobin said that Andersen influenced how he played hockey and more importantly, how he approaches things now.
"You can't come at everything with one approach," said Tobin. "It translates now for us in different aspects, whether it's work or people you deal with on a daily basis."
I talked to a number of former players, some of whom are quoted here and I apologize to the others who I didn't or couldn't reach.
Shaun Kirby was one of many members of the PHS hockey team who had Andersen as a teacher as well as a head coach. At the Club, he taught them hockey and on East Street, he taught them math. Other than that, there wasn't much of a difference.
"He was the same individual," said Kirby. "He showed great compassion and compared about you as an individual."
For the record, PHS beat the Crusaders 6-3 in the quarterfinals and then shut out East Longmeadow and Ludlow to take the Western Mass. title. From there, the Generals routed Gardner 11-4 and then beat Bourne 8-3 to win the state title.
Brendan Collins' third-period goal put the Generals up 4-3 and then the roof caved in on the Canalmen.
"The special part about that run is that we grew up together," Kirby said. "The 20 guys on that team grew up playing hockey together with coach Andersen as not only a coach, but as a hockey mentor and an advisor."
This team has gathered together over the years to celebrate that state championship.
The 25th anniversary is coming up next year, and you can be sure that celebration will be special.
To reach Howard Herman:
or (413) 496-6253.
On Twitter: @howardherman
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