His team could have won a nailbiter in the final seconds of play or been the victim of a blowout loss, and at the end of the contest you never would have known the difference.
Howie Doliber simply loved to talk about hockey.
Doliber, 59, who passed away yesterday after a long and courageous battle with cancer, gave much of his life to the town of Marblehead; specifically, the youth and high school players who played in this hockey-rich community.
From his time as a high school goaltender more than 40 years ago and his many seasons working with Marblehead Youth Hockey to his decades as a Marblehead High assistant, then head coach (1994-2003) and helping to start up The Friends of Marblehead Hockey, Doliber was as intertwined with his town's favorite sport as a person could be.
And Marblehead is a better place for his involvement.
Caring and passionate yet level-headed, Doliber also seemed to realize just how fortunate he was to be doing something he loved. He had an innate sense of connecting with his players and helping them to reach their full potential, no matter their particular skill set.
During his tenure as head coach, the Headers were not blessed with an abundance of talent. The program's glory years under his former head coach, Bob Roland, were gone, and many of the town's top players were looking elsewhere for playing options (the lack of a much-needed new high school at that time contributing mightily to that).
But never once did you hear Doliber complain. Rather, he took immense pride in talking his teams up, focusing on the positive and striving to give them the recognition he felt they rightly deserved. His squads, in turn, seemed to feed off of that, taking on the bigger and better programs of the time — Danvers, Gloucester, Saugus — and never giving an inch on the ice.
He also had a great sense of humor. (Being the father of two daughters and two sons with his terrific wife, Sharon, will do that to a person). Doliber loved to laugh and make others feel good about themselves; he was the kind of man others easily gravitated to.
Win or lose, when the final whistle in a particular game had blown Doliber was more than happy to talk about what had just unfolded. On many a night in the bowels of Salem State's Rockett Arena, I had the pleasure of having him fill my notebook with an abundance of quotes and observances on what he had just witnessed.
Other times, what I figured might be a 5-minute phone call turned into a half-hour conversation of all things hockey: who was playing well, did you see this game and boy, is that kid going to be a heck of a player.
That was Howie. He loved hockey.
He coached one NHLer: Vancouver Canucks goalie Cory Schneider, whom he had for his freshman year of high school in 2000-01 and had the guts to start him over a senior in the Headers' first playoff game in eight years. He had the pleasure of watching his oldest son, Patrick, star at Bishop Fenwick when Doliber moved from Marblehead to an assistant's role for the Crusaders under long-time coach (and friend) Bob Tierney. And he fought vociferously on Tierney's behalf over what he felt was the long-time coach's unjust dismissal from Fenwick.
What makes the North Shore hockey community such a tight-knit, special group can be boiled down into two words: the people. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of these people that keep the sport thriving and vibrant 365 days a year.
But today, we're left without one of the people who best embodied all of what makes our favorite winter sport so remarkable.
Rest in peace, Howie. Your smile, infectious attitude and love for the game won't be forgotten.
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Phil Stacey is the sports editor of The Salem News. Contact him at email@example.com, by phone at 978-338-2650, and follow him on Twitter @PhilStacey_SN.