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A saving grace

Thrust into the spotlight, Weymouth goalie Chris Daugherty is quietly going about his business after slaying CM

WEYMOUTH -- Each week, the coach implored all of his players to stay ready. Their chance, he stressed, could come any time.

Chris Daugherty wanted to believe Weymouth hockey coach Bob Donovan. But is there a more lonely job than a backup goalie, especially for a team that was on a roll, having won 20 of its first 21 games? Daugherty had logged a few periods here and there, but as Weymouth approached the state tournament, it was clear who would be between the pipes: starter Ryan MacAllister.

Daugherty, only a sophomore, figured his opportunity wouldn't come until next season. The preseason battle for the coveted spot was close, very close, but when MacAllister was given the nod, it was a difficult blow to a proud kid who grew up admiring the style of Dominik Hasek and committed to becoming a goaltender by the time he was 8 years old.

"I just loved everything about the position," Daugherty said.

A week and a half ago, as the team prepared for its playoff game with hockey heavyweight Catholic Memorial, the coaches put their players through a series of spirited drills. Assistant coach Matt Cataldo surveyed his backup goalie and took issue with Daugherty's body language.

"He was going through the motions," Cataldo said. "We were doing some drills, and you could tell he just wasn't into it.

"So I skated over to him and said, 'Chris, I think you should take your stuff off and go home.' He just looked at me and said, 'OK.' He's such a quiet kid. You never know what he's thinking."

It was an embarrassing lowlight in a season of personal frustration. Daugherty silently returned the following day and rejoined his place in the hockey pecking order, wondering what damage, if any, had been done by his mental lapse in practice.

All he wanted was a chance to prove himself.

"I had been waiting all season for that," he said.

Last Thursday, Donovan gathered the team at center ice. He made a stunning announcement: MacAllister had violated team rules and was dismissed from the team. The new starting goaltender, he said, was Chris Daugherty.

At first, Daugherty wasn't sure he had heard Donovan properly. He was hearing the news for the first time, along with his teammates. As they began tapping his pads for luck, Daugherty tried to erase the first thought that popped into his head.

"I didn't want to blow the game," he said.

What happened next is the stuff of Hollywood dreams. With Daugherty in the net last Sunday for his first career start, Weymouth upended Catholic Memorial, the No. 1 seed in the tournament, 2-1. The goaltender stopped 21 shots, including a nifty glove save in the final period that ultimately preserved the win. It was a major upset that left the high school hockey world buzzing, and asking the question: Who is that goalie?

He is a reluctant celebrity who confessed, "I don't think I blinked once" in the aftermath of his incredible performance. Earlier this week, as Daugherty fielded congratulations and conducted an interview, he uncomfortably tried to put the biggest night of his athletic life in perspective.

"Everyone is happy for me, but that's over now," he said. "It won't matter if we don't get it done against Central Catholic [Sunday] ."

That, of course, is not entirely true. Daugherty has brought Donovan's mantra to life. Every player should stay ready. It is not pure folly to believe that someday, when you least expect it, your number could be called. Who's to say how any kid would respond? Daugherty didn't know himself. He spent a sleepless night before the game pondering the possibilities.

His mother, Sherry, was so superstitious on game day she refused to leave her seat or talk to anyone during his starting debut.

"She was a wreck," Daugherty confirmed.

The win over CM, a 12-time Super 8 champion, was a tremendous gift to Donovan, who said Tuesday he will retire at the end of this season. He was thrilled that two of his seniors, Tim King and Joe Greene, scored the goals. He is effusive in his praise for his defensive corps, which did such a wonderful job of rallying around their understandably nervous and apprehensive goalie, and singled out Mike Tuplin as the talented leader of that group.

"Mike's been enormous," Donovan said. "Without him, we don't get here."

Chris Daugherty understands that as well as anyone. He is a young man who has been thrust into a singular spotlight he'd much rather share. Quite frankly, he has not enjoyed his 15 minutes of fame all that much.

"I wish they'd talk about all of our guys," he said. "It's a team game."

Although CM may not have heard of Chris Daugherty, you can be sure Central Catholic has. The Red Raiders will do their best to rattle the inexperienced goalie by peppering him with shots. The days of Chris Daugherty sneaking up on anyone are officially over.

"I feel for the kid," Donovan said. "It's easier to achieve when you are under the radar than when you are in the direct line of fire. Everyone is watching now."

Weymouth's defense has been its calling card all season, and its strategy against Catholic Memorial was to have the forwards come back and help prevent CM's fleet of fast skaters from flying through the neutral zone. It's likely Donovan will employ a similar tactic against Central Catholic, which scored eights goals in its victory over Malden Catholic last weekend.

Although his tenure is coming to a close, Donovan continues to look for teachable moments. Before the CM game, he reminded all his players -- not just Daugherty -- of their team motto: Be nervous, not afraid.

Asked what advice he plans to give his young goaltender before Sunday, Donovan answered, "The same thing I told him the last game. Just be yourself. Don't try to change anything. Be who you are. If that's good enough, then great. If it's not, then we'll lose like we always have -- as a team."

Jackie MacMullan can be reached at macmullan@globe.com.

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