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Marlborough overwhelmed by first state title

Panthers ecstatic for their 19-year coach

The tears started flowing down John Butler's face shortly after the final buzzer sounded at the FleetCenter. And 48 hours after Marlborough's 6-3 win over Bishop Stang in last Sunday's MIAA Division 3 hockey championship, the head coach was still choking them back.

''Our goal was to finish what we didn't finish last year, and we did it," he said softly. ''It's been emotional. I'm crying again, sorry."

No need to apologize, Coach.

The first state championship in Marlborough hockey history was celebrated en masse by the orange-and-black-clad fans who traveled to the FleetCenter. (Butler had 14 messages on his cellphone from friends and former players by the time he made it to the locker room.)

It meant everything to the players, who had suffered through a series of painful state tournament defeats over the years, including an overtime loss to Bourne in last year's state final.

But it meant even more to Butler.

The 19-year veteran, who proudly watched from behind the bench as his son, Bob, scored four goals, including the game-winner, in the biggest high school game of his record-setting career, finally brought home the big one.

''Nineteen years of no state championship and then finally doing it was big for him, unbelievable for him," said Bob Butler, a senior forward who led the Panthers to a 23-1-1 record with 58 goals and 30 assists. ''He's been on the phone ever since the game ended. He gets five e-mails every 10 minutes from old Panthers. Everyone knows what this means to him."

The Butlers are more than a hockey family. The sport is stitched into their DNA.

Wendy and John Butler's oldest son, J.R., plays at Holy Cross. Bob will graduate as Marlborough's all-time leading scorer with 173 goals and 108 assists for 281 points. Alec, an eighth-grader, was a Marlborough JV player this season. He'll join his dad on the varsity next winter.

The ties between Butler and his three sons are strong. Bob passed up a chance to go to prep school to play for his dad. This winter, he played for both the Boston Junior Bruins, an elite junior team, and Marlborough High, because he didn't want to let his dad down.

Bob's double duty meant he practiced twice a day, five days a week, and played 80 games, the equivalent of a full NHL season. Hockey ruled his life. But that was OK. If Marlborough was going to win a state title, the Butlers were going to celebrate it together.

''When we lost to Bourne, he gave me a hug and said he was sorry that he couldn't win the title. We both cried," John Butler said. ''That stuck in my mind Sunday. We both knew that he put in a lot of work and made a huge sacrifice. That's why this is so special."

John Butler opened the season with a three-letter instruction to his team: GID, as in get it done. It took 19 years, a super human effort from his son, and lots of sweat and tears, but the Panthers finally did it.

''This was a big win for the team, my dad, the whole town," Bob Butler said. ''It's a great win for all of the Panthers. GID isn't get it done anymore. We got it done. That's what it means now."

Newton North basketballPaul Connolly was walking through the Newton North hallways Tuesday morning when it hit him: For the first time in his career, the Tigers boys' basketball coach ended a season with a victory.

''I'll tell you, it's a weird feeling," said Connolly, who led Newton North to its first MIAA Division 1 championship March 19 with a 74-65 victory over Springfield Commerce. ''Ending a season with a win is what every coach wants to do. I'd always said I wanted to do it. Now I have. It's a great feeling. I know these kids deserve this."

Newton North was nearly perfect this winter. The Tigers went 26-1. Their only loss came to Division 2 champion Charlestown, a team that played brilliantly against North, shooting 54 percent from the field and 91 percent from the line.

North's state tournament run was epic. The Tigers outlasted Bay State Conference nemesis Brookline in a first-round grudge match, beat New Bedford, 88-84, in arguably the tournament's most entertaining game, and then held off a game Springfield Commerce team to bring home the program's first state title.

Anthony Gurley and Corey Lowe showed why they were the state's top backcourt. Gurley, the Bay State Conference Carey Division MVP, averaged 26 points in five tournament games, including 37 against New Bedford. Lowe, a conference All-Star, matched Gurley nearly bucket for bucket, averaging 20 points, including 33 against New Bedford.

Gurley and Lowe will be back next year. But Connolly said the team will not be the same without his eight seniors: Michael Scheffler, John McNamara, Matt Westman, Justin Houston, Jarred Amato, Jon Garshick, Loren Waldron, and Renan Malafaia, a conference All-Star center.

''I'm going to miss those guys," Connolly said. ''I can't say enough about the Class of '05. Those guys did everything for us. They were terrific."

James Whitters can be reached at whitters@globe.com.


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