McEachern charts new course for Rivers

WESTON, Mass. -- It’s picture day for the Rivers School boys’ hockey team and teammates are horsing around between their individual shots and the finale — the group shot. First-year Red Wings head coach Shawn McEachern is waiting for the festivities to wrap up and jump in for the team photo at MacDowell Arena.

He leans forward, putting his weight on stick and says, “They’re funny.”

His young Rivers team is 8-9-0 (as of Thursday) and he’s satisfied with effort they’ve given while taking to a new style of play.

But mostly, the Waltham native and 13-year NHL veteran is having fun with this group.

“When it’s time to work, these guys get after it, but they’re able to laugh and have some fun,” McEachern said. “They’re good kids and they’re fun to be around. It keeps you young. It’s a blast to be around kids this age.”

McEachern retired in 2006, following his second stint with the Bruins. He always knew he wanted to coach when his playing career was over and the former Matignon great jumped right into his new career passion, taking assistant coaching jobs in Hockey East with Northeastern and UMass-Lowell, in addition to a stint at Salem State University.

He is one of three former Boston University Terriers and ex-NHLers to join the ISL’s coaching ranks this year, along with Tony Amonte at Thayer and Scott Young at St. Mark’s. McEachern’s new gig behind the bench at Rivers is his first at the high school/prep level and he inherited a team that hasn’t finished with a double-digit win tally since the 2004-05 season. So it’s a challenge.

“I just want them to grow,” said McEachern who also works under Jim McNally as the assistant director of athletics at Rivers. “I don’t want to set long-term goals on winning any certain number of games or anything like that. We just want to come out here every day and get better.”

The Red Wings have four freshmen and an eighth-grader on their roster who are feeling their way through the season. McEachern also inherited some talented leaders, however, with senior captains Connor Dempsey and George Crowley leading the way.

Dempsey, a Winthrop native, is a slick-skating center who has committed to play at Dartmouth with its 2012 recruiting class.

“He’s always pushing details, details, details,” Dempsey said. “But it’s all those small things that lead up to winning games.

“He’s probably the most professional coach I’ve been around though. Every single drill is full speed, he keeps everything up-paced and every practice is very fast.

Dempsey said it took a couple games for the Red Wings to get up to speed with McEachern’s approach to the game, but the results have followed.

“In the beginning of the season, it was hard to get everyone to plug in. Everyone was on their own page and not really following the system. Especially in the past seven, eight games, everyone’s started to plug in and we’re starting to win games. It’s just about everyone trusting themselves and trusting in the style that we’re playing.”

While that transition takes time, McEachern is enjoying the ride. The 41-year old accomplished much in his hockey career. He was a Hobey Baker Award finalist at BU, an Olympian and won a Stanley Cup in his rookie season with the Pittsburgh Penguins. The lightning-fast skater also had the opportunity to play with his hometown team in Boston.

“Kevin Stevens called me the night before the deal and said that he was going to be traded to Boston and he thought I was going to be part of the deal, too,” McEachern said of the 1995 deal that re-shaped the Bruins, with youngsters Glen Murray and Bryan Smolinski headed the other way. “I was excited to come back and play in Boston, but it was tough because we left a team that had won two Stanley Cups in Pittsburgh.’

McEachern finished his career skating with the Ottawa Senators and Atlanta Thrashers (where he was also captain) before returning home to Boston one last time.

Wherever he’s landed, he’s always maintained the same passion for the game.

“I was lucky enough to play professionally for a long time and I’ve coached at the Division 3 and Division 1 levels in Hockey East,” McEachern said. “Kids are the same, it’s just the talent levels that change.”

And with a little bit of consistency, the Red Wings will be on their way.

“I think before the two losses last weekend we were playing well,” Dempsey said. “It’s just coming out and playing all three periods. Once we do that, we’ll be fine.”