Chris Kuchar spent the last five seasons building Andover High School’s hockey team into a championship contender only to be forced from his job last month by administrators who offered few explanations. On Thursday, he accepted the head coaching position at powerhouse Malden Catholic High School — a five-time state champion over the last decade.
Although a leap in the ranks of prep hockey in Massachusetts, for Kuchar, the move was bittersweet.
After accepting the job, he met with 30 of his former Andover players to break the news that he definitely wasn’t coming back — even if the position was offered to him.
“I didn’t ask for this to happen,” said Kuchar, who spent the last five seasons at Andover High. “I was ready, despite the issues going on behind the scenes, to return to Andover. We built a pretty good thing over there. It’s not easy walking away.”
What Kuchar and his staff built was one of Andover High’s top programs. In five years, they not only made the state tournament every year, but they won two Merrimack Valley Conference titles and one “Super 8” berth (2017-18).
Off the ice, Kuchar added another junior varsity program and funded it with a charity golf tournament, which he created. When his team copped the 2019 MIAA/MSHCA James Mulloy Sportsmanship Award, he says he couldn’t have been prouder.
“That is voted on by the referees,” said Kuchar. “They see things a lot of other people don’t. They see the interactions on the bench. They see the student-athletes on the ice. We were so honored by that award.”
Andover High principal Phillip Conrad and athletic director Bill Martin, though, did not waver.
Kuchar’s time at Andover High, despite the successes, was rocky. In his second season, Andover Superintendent of Schools Sheldon Berman wrote a lengthy letter about Kuchar’s coaching and treatment of athletes, which included his son.
It was believed that Berman wanted Conrad and then-athletic director Don Doucette to fire Kuchar. They did not.
Then in January 2018, a claim was filed with the Massachusetts’ Department of Children and Families (DCF) by the parent of a junior varsity player that Kuchar and his staff withheld food and water from the hockey players. A separate investigation, ordered by the school, exonerated Kuchar and his staff and they returned to their posts about three weeks later.
Kuchar’s team ended up 13-7-2, earning its first-ever “Super 8” berth (top eight teams in that state play in a separate double-elimination tournament).
This past season was uneventful, at least off the ice. Andover finished 14-7-2, losing in the Div. 1 North semifinals.
Three weeks later, via a phone call from Martin, he was told he would not be back.
A firestorm of emotions ensued from players, former players, parents, students and Andover residents.
Students walked out of class and met with the media. Parents held signs outside the high school and at Old Town Hall in downtown Andover. Meetings were held between parents, students, and school administrators. Some parents are fund-raising to buy T-shirts and signs decrying the mistreatment of coaches and calling for the ouster of Superintendent Sheldon Berman.
So far, their efforts have been for naught. Now, it may be impossible to put the genie back in the bottle.
“Within 48 hours of Andover’s decision not to bring me back I was contacted by three other schools, including Malden Catholic,” said Kuchar. “I ended up getting three different meetings with M.C., and it was a great match. We have similar expectations and goals.”
Malden Catholic’s hockey history, particularly over the last dozen years, has been rich. The Lancers won five “Super 8” state titles and appeared in seven state finals in nine seasons.
The Lancers, though, struggled under coach Mike Collett, finishing 1-20 this past winter, and 0-8 in the difficult Catholic Conference. Collett was reportedly told his contract would not be renewed.
The standards and expectations at Malden Catholic are very high.
“They should be,” said Kuchar. “Having said that when I originally was hired at Amesbury and then Andover, we came in when the programs were struggling. We set the bars high, winning the league titles, competing for state championships. It doesn’t always happen, but that’s the goal.
“We’re not coming to Malden Catholic to finish third in the conference,” he said. “We’re coming to try to win the league and state title every year. Based on what we do and prepare, we expect to win every hockey game we play.”
Kuchar said he will meet with his new players at Malden Catholic Friday afternoon.
While he is looking forward to his new venture, this was not on his original plan when the season ended on April 7.
But there are experiences he had over the last, trying five weeks that he says, will change him forever.
“The texts and letters I received from so many former players were was so emotional for me,” said Kuchar. “These were notes to me, from former players who had no skin in the game. They just wanted me to know the effect we had on them.
“I realize we affect students and their lives, but I honestly didn’t realize how much,” said Kuchar. “I did a lot of crying reading them last month. It meant a lot to me during a tough time.”
Kuchar said he told the current Andover players that they need to “let it go” and accept the new coach, whomever that will be.
“I told them I expect the same commitment they gave me,” said Kuchar. “The new coach will have the same goals I had; he’ll want to coach a good team.”
But now it’s time to move on. It’s time to go back to the drawing board and try to turn around another program.
“We’re excited,” said Kuchar. “Very excited.”