Ice Hockey, Sports

Sean Maguire set to return after year away from BU hockey

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PHOTO BY OLIVIA NADEL/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF
PHOTO BY OLIVIA NADEL/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

It was tough to be a bystander last year, to watch his team have the success it did without him, lifting trophy after trophy without him, to have to sit out every night and not be able to help.

He was happy for BU coach David Quinn, the program and everyone involved, but for Sean Maguire, watching the team do well was equivalent to someone else taking his girlfriend on a date.

However, sitting was a necessity.

On March 3, 2014, while the team was practicing for its coming Hockey East playoff matchup against the University of Notre Dame, Maguire was in goal. There was a 3-on-2 rush coming down the ice, and Maguire’s best friend, then-sophomore center Mike Moran, had fallen while he was crashing the net.

Only the netminder didn’t see it.

Instead he slid to where the pass was coming, anticipating a save, and the two collided. Moran’s knee hit him in the head, and Maguire fell backward, smacking his head again on the ice.

It was his first concussion, and it was a severe one.

It affected much of his life. Maguire noticed differences in his personality, he had trouble focusing on things, his eyesight was skewed. His peripheral vision on his right side was damaged and one of the hardest things for him to get back as he recovered. His cognitive ability was slow.

It’s in his nature to keep going and push through things, but he knew he had to pace himself and make sure he was better. He didn’t want to rush it. With brain injuries like that, you can’t mess around, he said.

“I’ve seen so many people try to get back into things way too early, and then their career ends the next year,” he said. “So I made the decision with my family and the doctors I was seeing that it would be a good idea to take a year off of contact sports and just make sure that my brain heals properly and adequately so that I can play for the rest of my career.”

He wanted to play, he really did. He was “pissed off” for a couple months about having to take a break from playing the game he loved. It was hard, but he knew the choice he was making was the correct one. Now, he feels better than he did before he left.

But the process of recovering for the 22-year-old was difficult. He didn’t feel like himself for a while, not completely until he was back at BU this past summer skating with the team and preparing for his senior season. The time in between was hazy.

“I think, honestly,” he said, “if I had to give it to you the way that I’ve seen it and kind of dealt with it is the last year was kind of like … it was a chunk of time where it was just kind of a blur really. I mean, I don’t have many memories from it.

“I don’t want many memories from it.”

It took time before he could get back to working out. He trained a little bit over that summer but couldn’t do much. In the couple months following the hit, he started with little things. The intense exercises didn’t begin until September, half a year after he sustained his injury, when his doctors back home in British Columbia cleared him for contact sports.

Still, he needed more time.

Maguire took the first semester of last year off, staying home in Powell River and working a couple jobs, anything to keep busy. He worked in a gym and also spent time working in his mom’s office.

The period at home was a positive experience for Maguire, as he could just rest and not worry about having somewhere to be all the time.

“I was just a normal kid for a couple months, and it felt pretty nice, too, just to kind of relax and let life happen instead of having so much stuff on the go,” he said.

“I’m always … I always have a lot of stuff to worry about, you know? It’s nice to kind of have that freedom for a couple months.”

Each day, he’d wake up, make breakfast, walk his dogs, go to work, work out and skate for practice. He’d usually hit the ice with the Powell River Kings of the British Columbia Hockey League, the local junior team.

If anything needed work technically, it was his skating. Time away from the ice made finding his edges again difficult, though he laced up once a week with his goalie coach, Jeff Battah, once he was cleared in September.

The weight of all his gear took some getting used to again, too.

“It’s kind of, it’s a weird feeling taking six months off and having to lug around all that stuff again,” Maguire said.

But it didn’t take long for the netminder to find his feet — just a couple sessions. He could still see the puck well, that doesn’t really change, he said, and though his ability to read plays like he used to was rusty, that’s coming back, too.

“I’ve been on the ice long enough now. I feel pretty comfortable in my ability,” he said.

For the spring semester, he was back in Boston. He wasn’t training a lot, but he took three classes and was getting back into the swing of things school-wise. He’d also check in with Larry Venis, the head athletic trainer at BU, and Doug Comeau, the medical director of Athletic Training Services.

In April, he was officially cleared to be back on the BU hockey roster.

He spent the majority of the summer on Commonwealth Avenue, save three weeks in July that he used mostly to see his family back home, and another one in Pittsburgh for Penguins development camp, where he faced a tough challenge.

Maguire hadn’t had any in-game experience since his last start on Feb. 28, 2014, but at camp, he had the chance to play in front of 10,000 people and said he performed well.

“I thought that was a big test for me, honestly, mentally,” he said.

There’s more ice in Boston than there is in Powell River, Maguire said, so being here was the best option for him in order to stay in shape.

That’s also when he started feeling entirely himself again, back to who he is, when he was back on campus and having fun, back to the Maguire who has a career .923 save percentage and a 2.69 goals against average. Now he’s treating his return as though he never left.

“It feels, like I said, kind of like a blur that whole year, so I think I kind of … I feel like that time just went by, I feel like I didn’t even get hit, you know?” he said.

He still wears the same mask he did before he got hit, deep red with a thick white stripe running right down the middle.

“[It feels] like I’m still here, like it didn’t happen. That’s how I’m trying to deal with it, like I’m back, it’s just how it feels.”

He still does the same in-game stretch he did before he got hit: leave the crease, skate to where the goal line meets the boards, turn back, spread arms out, bring arms in, bend over, glide back to the net.

But there are things he doesn’t do anymore, too, or at least things he’s trying not to do.

He doesn’t pull his hands back on shots like he had a tendency to. Now he keeps them out in front of his body. His time away gave him a chance to fix that area of his game, among others.

Habits that had once been engrained in him could be eliminated. With the opportunity to just practice without the pressure of having to play a game every week, Maguire could hone his skills and is now, in his words and in Quinn’s, an even better goalie than before.

“He seems to be all the way back and then some,” Quinn said. “He looks the best since I’ve been here, both mentally and physically.

“I’ve never been more confident in him,” he added. “Honestly, I’ve never been more confident in him.”

Maguire doesn’t want to let things stress him out as much as he used to allow them to. He’s going to let things come to him and try not to worry about what he can’t control.

He wants to be a good student, a good hockey player and a good person. Every time he steps on the ice, he wants to be his best. He doesn’t want to take a day off.

“I think that I can play in this league,” he said. “I’m a good goalie in this league.”

In Saturday’s exhibition game against Acadia University, Maguire took the ice in front of an Agganis Arena crowd for the first time since his injury. Halfway through the second period, he swapped his spot on the bench for one in the crease. None of the 15 shots he faced got past him, and he earned the 4-2 win and an assist on the game-winning goal.

He looked focused, turning shots aside or swallowing them into his chest. When the Axemen picked up the pace, he kept in step with them, shutting them out for his 30-plus minutes between the pipes.

“He looks great,” Quinn said. “Forget about what I’m seeing on the ice, just what I see off the ice. He’s as confident and as settled and he’s in a good place. I’m expecting a good year out of him.”

“I know that if I just stick to what I know how to do and not worry about what I can’t control, then I’m gonna have a good year,” Maguire said.

“I mean,” Quinn added, “no one works harder than Sean.”

PHOTO BY OLIVIA NADEL/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF
PHOTO BY OLIVIA NADEL/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

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