The first chance John McCarthy got to see the Boston University men’s hockey team came in 1995.
McCarthy, then eight years old, tucked in the bleachers of the old Boston Garden, watched with his father as the Terriers ran away from Boston College for their 18th Beanpot title.
Riding back up I-93 to his Andover, Mass., home that evening, McCarthy had made up his mind.
‘I went to the Beanpot every year and saw BU play,’ McCarthy said. ‘The first time I saw them play was when I was about eight years old. I made up my mind. I wanted to play for BU.’
Starring at St. John’s Preparatory School in Danvers, Mass., McCarthy committed to BU in the fall of 2003.
Forced to play a year in the United States Hockey League to mature into the collegiate game, McCarthy quietly ranked eighth on the Des Moines Buccaneers in goals and points.
‘I committed my junior year of high school, fairly early,’ McCarthy said. ‘As soon as I started getting recruited, I knew exactly where I wanted to go. I had to play a year in the USHL with the Buccaneers, and then I came here. It was where I always wanted to be.’
Since coming to BU, McCarthy has epitomized what coach Jack Parker has dubbed the ‘BU hockey player.’
Letting his actions speak in lieu of his soft-spoken nature, McCarthy, along with fellow senior co-captain Matt Gilroy, was a unanimous choice last spring to be a Terrier captain this year.
‘John has always been a quiet leader,’ Gilroy said. ‘He leads by example, and everyone feeds off of what he does. Whether it is in the classroom or the locker room, he has always had the look of a leader.’
‘He’s a leader by example on and off the ice. He conducts himself with the utmost manner,’ senior forward Chris Higgins said. ‘He knows how to handle the guys. He’s never in anyone’s face, but when Johnny says something, everyone respects it.’
Crediting his developed leadership skills to former Terriers Brad Zancanaro and David Van der Gulik, McCarthy has made a conscious effort to instill his work ethic in his teammates.
‘For me, it was a lot of fun to play with Zancanaro and Van der Gulik,’ McCarthy said of his 2005-06 teammates. ‘Just to be around those guys and see the way they play and the way they conduct themselves day in and day out, you learn a little bit every day.
‘I think the older you get and as you go through college, you get more comfortable in your surroundings. You look at Zancanaro, Van der Gulik, then [Sean] Sullivan and [Brian] McGuirk and [Pete] MacArthur leading the team, and you recognize what it takes to be a leader.’
Coming into this season, a leader and a beacon of stability were voids McCarthy and Gilroy hoped to fill. After a disappointing start to last year, getting on track early in October was the focus of an extensive offseason conditioning program.
With the idea that everyone has a role on the team and a commitment to the whole, McCarthy and Gilroy established a sense of individual accountability in early June.
‘We worked hard all summer, and everyone has an idea of what they need to do individually to help the team win,’ McCarthy said. ‘It’s a low recognition system. We’re not trying to do too much. Everyone is part of every win.’
True to McCarthy’s nature, the Terriers have taken to the captain’s work ethic, as its effects have paid dividends this season.
‘He’s always the guy that gives it his all,’ assistant captain Brian Strait said. ‘Sometimes you don’t really notice him, but other times he’s the best player on the ice. Even if you don’t notice him, that’s a good thing. That’s the role he plays. He might not be the most vocal leader, but he leads by example.’
Struggling through a tailspin that culminated in a pair of home losses to the University of Vermont last month, the Terriers pulled themselves from the bottom third of the Hockey East rankings with a win at Boston College Saturday night.
With McCarthy and Gilroy demanding more of the group they helped mold over the summer, the Terriers have responded with selfless, thorough hockey.
‘We made sure everyone knew it was not acceptable [to keep going in the wrong direction],’ McCarthy said. ‘But there is no use in going back to it. What happened, happened. We all know it can’t happen again, we just got to get ready for the next game.’
‘We have a really talented team to work with,’ Gilroy said. ‘All the guys are committed, and the talent that is in our locker room is something we haven’t had in a long time.’
Getting the talent in order and working for the scarlet embroidered on the front of the sweater starts at the top.
McCarthy ‘-‘- the boy who saw BU roll a generation before ‘-‘- has brought the Terriers back to the style of play that brought him to Boston.