Prior to this season, Boston College men’s hockey captain Teddy Doherty never had a letter on his chest in his entire hockey career. If a captain is supposed to be an extension of the head coach, though, the senior defenseman is either a quick study or was preordained for his new role.
The nephew of former BC star Marty Hughes, Doherty needs his next trophy like he needs oxygen, yet he doesn’t want to look past the next day—let alone his team’s next opponent. Like head coach Jerry York, Doherty has internalized the program’s ethos so much that his platitudes and cliches seem earnest. The only difference between how York and the Hopkinton, Mass., native answer questions is that York’s Boston accent is more pronounced.
Captaining the Eagles is a dream come true for Doherty. “When the program announced it last season, I was so happy,” Doherty said. “I’ve been itching to get at it and Saturday, it’s right here.”
He learned a lot from his three previous captains—Pat Mullane, Patrick Brown, and Mike Matheson—about what it takes to be a leader. Matheson was an aberration compared to the likes of Mullane and Brown. Matheson, a first round draft pick of the Florida Panthers in 2012, earned the captaincy as a junior. He had the potential to dominate every time he hit the ice, but did not always extract the most from his vast skillset and took too many bonehead penalties.
That’s in contrast to Mullane and Brown, two seniors that rarely flashed but improved every season and had high hockey IQs. Doherty, listed at 5-foot-10, resembles the latter two, and he has taken lessons from them.
“You just want to show up to the rink every day and do whatever you need to do … show the younger guys how it’s done and get them acclimated as quickly as possible,” Doherty said. “Season starts on Saturday, so we’re ready to go.”
A trophy eluded last year’s iteration of the Eagles, which, like Matheson’s appointment to captain, was a departure from the norm in the school’s recent history. That drives Doherty, who, as the prototypical BC captain, loves wearing the “C” to lead his teammates on a quest to return that glory to Conte Forum’s rafters. “Being able to lift the Beanpot or the national championship, stuff like that gets me really excited,” Doherty said.
Aside from his ideal comportment, Doherty earned his letter last year on the ice during the Eagles’ turbulent campaign. Already thin at forward to begin the season, injuries up front forced York to dip into his stable of blue liners and shift Doherty into regular duty at forward. Though predisposed to jumping into the rush as an offensively-inclined defenseman, Doherty had little recent experience at his new position but accepted the move up front. He did this despite knowing that moving to forward meant a decrease in ice time and less space to work.
He hadn’t played forward (specifically wing) in a while, so he had to learn how to forecheck, handle the boards, pinch defensemen on the breakout in the defensive zone, and create offense from deeper in the offensive zone while keeping his head on a swivel—all without the benefit of preseason training camp. Yet one of York’s mantras is to be a “superstar at your role,” and Doherty’s new role was wing. Doherty practiced what he now preaches and did whatever he needed to do. “If they need me to play left wing, I’ll play left wing.” Doherty said “If they need me to play defense, power play, whatever it is, be a star at your role.”
That doesn’t mean the shift was easy. Doherty struggled learning the right place to be and when to be there. He gained a new sympathy for the position. Most importantly, he learned how difficult it was to score goals. “I have a new appreciation for the forwards,” Doherty said, “but I’m still expecting them to get back on the backcheck.”
Though he may not have been a superstar, Doherty was better than he lets on—he scored six goals and added 17 assists. Many times last season, he outplayed and created more chances than any of BC’s other bottom six forwards. The ability that Doherty displayed to take coaching, adjust, and do whatever he needed to do for the team illustrates what he learned from captains and leaders of BC’s recent past.
He deserved to be the next one to set the example for whomever else is in a similar position, in which they may need to deviate from what he is comfortable with for the betterment of the whole.
The usually careful York revealed more than Doherty would about what he expects from his captains. Doherty fits the profile, York said, checks the boxes and does whatever other cliches that an ideal BC captain could insert here. At the same time, Doherty emphasizes some of the points York considers non-negotiable: teamwork, enjoying the process, welcoming freshmen, and leaving all pride behind in favor of the team.
“I’m really impressed with the leadership he’s shown,” York said. “He’s always been a pretty good leader, but now we’re really seeing it.”
To demonstrate that, Doherty said his only personal goal was to improve each day. He tries to hold other guys accountable and make them better mostly by improving his own game. If he does that, Doherty believes there should only be one outcome: “Come out at the end and win a championship.”
Most observers expect York’s machine of a program to get back to its dominant ways and compete for trophies after sustaining an early season malaise and suffering a disappointing first round exit in the NCAA Tournament last season. A key cog in that machine is usually an egoless, “overachieving” captain, and Doherty fits that profile. What distinguishes Doherty from his predecessors, though, is what he and his fellow seniors don’t have—a national title. Avoiding the fate of graduating without a ring is more than extra motivation for Doherty and his classmates.
“It’s everything—we go back to the dorm rooms and we talk about it, how we’d be the first one since ’07’s class that hasn’t won a ring,” Doherty said while allowing himself to get worked up for the first time during the post-practice interview. But, in the mold of York’s ideal captain, he caught himself and snapped back onto his coach’s message. “With that being said, we’re getting focused for Saturday and that’s all we can really think about right now.”
Featured Image by Arthur Bailin / Heights Staff