WEST SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- As a youngster, Matt Foley would often be seen hanging around the Springfield Cathedral bench with clipboard in hand. Foley, the son of Panthers head coach Brian Foley, was enthralled with the game of hockey at an early age. In that time he was a sponge, gathering as much information as one possibly could about the game by watching and listening.
“I started hanging around the team when I was an eight year-old and I thought of myself as an assistant coach offering my two cents on everything,” Foley said. “I think by being around the team at such a young age it truly helped to give me a better understanding of the game because I was always keeping stats and always observing.”
Fast forward to the present and Foley, a senior, has cemented his place as one of the finest high school defensemen in the state. The young kid who was joined at the hip to his father is now playing for him and is one of the primary contributors to the top-ranked Panthers’ success.
“Matt does all the right things on and off the ice,” said the elder Foley, now in his ninth season with Cathedral. “This is the place he has always wanted to be at. As to how good I thought he would be when he was younger, I honestly had no idea. I would just tell him what he needed to work on and he would take the initiative to go out and shoot pucks in the driveway and do his push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups. He’s a self-motivated kid but is all ears as well. He is good at taking advice. He’s very focused on his goal to play college hockey somewhere.”
Like with the rest of the Cathedral players, a rigorous, yet dedicated, off-season workout program is essential and expected. Foley, along with his teammates, has put in the extra time to turn himself into a top-level player. Also a seven-inch growth spurt didn’t hurt either.
“During my first varsity season, as a sophomore, I was slow, small and weak,” Foley said. “I started to grow finally and worked hard over the off-seasons to get stronger physically and get stronger with my stick. It was all about physical development with me. Playing defense is more of a thinking game. At forward, you can let loose a little more. On defense you need to be in control and have to think everything through. If you make just one mistake on defense the whole rink sees it.”
As a junior, Foley was limited on the ice because of a nagging hamstring injury he suffered in mid-November. He returned to the Panthers in December, but still was not at 100 percent. It wasn’t until February that he fully recovered and helped lead Cathedral to a berth in the Super 8 Tournament.
The conversations around the Foley household in Longmeadow no doubt center around hockey. Foley’s mother Julie comes to most games. His older brother Mickey plays for Choate-Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, Conn. He also has an older sister (Bridget) and younger sister (Kate).
“My father and I talk hockey a lot,” Foley said. “It’s basically an extension of our practices. We go home and watch game tape together and talk about it. As my coach he is very honest with me after games. I know half the mistakes I make in a game so some of the things he tells me I already know. He’s not overly hard on me nor is he ignorant. I just find that he is always right in his opinion.”
Even though his father is the head coach he doesn’t work with his son all that much.
“Coach [Mike] Rousseau coaches our defensemen,” Brian Foley said. “So I sort of stay out of that end of the bench. I am coaching the team but I’m not coaching Matt specifically.”
With the season at the midway point, Foley is hopeful his career closes with another trip to the Super 8 Tournament. Only this time, the goal is to come home with the top prize. After graduation, Foley plans on attending a prep school as a postgraduate before moving on to college. He is eyeing schools in the Ivy League and NESCAC.
Foley has had opportunities to jump ship and play for a junior league club but could never fathom himself wearing anything but a Cathedral hockey sweater. His plan all along was to remain a Panther and continue to bring this program to the forefront of Massachusetts Division 1 hockey.
“Playing high school hockey is what it’s all about,” he said. “When you go off and play for juniors you aren’t playing in front of any of your fans. Since I’ve been playing here I see the same people in the stands for every game. For me that’s pretty special. I’m really going to miss playing in front of these same people and the tight community this school represents. It is something that you truly embrace here. It will be tough when it’s time for me to leave here.”