For Jimmy Tierney, there’s no place like Easton.
It’s where he was born and raised. It’s where he starred as a high school hockey player. It’s where he still resides at 26 years old.
And it’s also where he first became the head coach of a high school hockey team. The same team he once played for.
“Honestly, I could,” Tierney said of his first season in charge of the Oliver Ames High boys hockey program. “Thinking back to when I played here, there was something special about this town. Playing here all four years, it was always something I was interested in helping with when I was able to.”
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Tierney, who was promoted from his assistant role under former coach Mike Zucarelli after three seasons, was a four-time Enterprise All-Scholastic goaltender for the Tigers between 2012-15, taking home the Hockomock League Goalie of the Year honor twice in his senior year. school days. He boasted a 1.80 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage as the team qualified for the state tournament all four of his years in net.
The current-day Tigers — who haven’t seen tournament action since 2019 — have a climb-back to similar stature already in motion, standing at 15th in the latest update of the MIAA Div. 2 power rankings with a 5-6 record. The team was No. 8 in the initial release, an impressive leap from the No. 36 spot (7-12-1 record) it inherited from last season.
“They all showed up Day 1 with the same goal: to get back to the playoffs,” Tierney said. “The last few years, we’ve gotten away from that a little bit. Everyone was bought in on going towards that one goal and it’s been cool to see some results so far.”
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Four of Oliver Ames’ six losses have come by one goal to formidable opponents — league powerhouse Canton (2-1 loss), above-.500 North Attleboro (3-2) and a pair of two-loss Patriot League schools Silver Lake (5-4) and Plymouth South (2-1).
The other defeats came to an improved Whitman-Hanson squad, 5-3, and to Franklin, which has won nine of its first 10 games this season, by a 4-1 final.
“I see a lot of grit in this team. A lot of schools like Canton’s and Franklin’s, they have 100 kids try out for their programs every year. We had only 30 kids this year try out for our program,” Tierney said. “But the believability in the room that we are a good hockey team, we all want to play for each other and the hard work will get us to where we want to be
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“Even though there have been a lot of games that we’ve lost by a goal or two, it shows those are teams that were winning by three, four, five (goals) against us last year,” added Tierney. “And this year, every coach has said how it seems like a completely different team. In reality, it’s the same players. Just the mentality has all changed.”
He wasn’t kidding.
OA retained all but two players from a season ago, defenseman Cameron Tower and forward Eliot Cohen the exceptions. The forward bunch of senior captain Sean McCarthy (4 goals, 6 assists), junior Andrew Livingstone (4 goals, 6 assists), junior Jack Corey (3 goals, 6 assists), junior Matt Lawson (5 goals, 3 assists) and senior captain Jack Perron (6 goals, 2 assists) has combined atop the team leaderboard in points while senior goalie Brandon Burke has a save rate of 88.3 percent through nine games played.
The change in mentality, as Tierney noted, was best encapsulated in the team’s gathering at the high school track at 8 am on New Years Day for an early-morning cardio workout.
“Everyone showed up with the best attitudes I could’ve asked for. They were happy to be there and even one of the freshmen, Brendan Teehan, said, ‘I bet you other teams aren’t doing this, Coach.’ And I agree,” said Tierney. “That’s just the type of buy-in this team has in wanting to do whatever it takes to get to that goal.”
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For the captains, the postseason goal (in part) is inspired by the feats Tierney’s Tigers accomplished during his high school career — Tierney’s standout memory was defeating rival Canton, 2-0, in the semifinals of the Div. 2 South Sectional tournament as a sophomore in 2013, a game that “was a big thing for the town to show that OA hockey can play in those big moments,” he said.
“He knows how we feel,” McCarthy said of Tierney. “He’s had tournament experience and he wants that for us. We appreciate that. He’s pushing us so we can achieve that. We share a common goal.”
Tierney graduated from OA in 2015, and continued his playing career at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire. A double hip surgery he underwent his freshman season to repair an injury he suffered playing as a high school junior stunted his collegiate career at one season, a season dominated by rehabilitation and recovery.
Tierney would often return home during college breaks, though, to volunteer with the Tigers’ goalies until he graduated in 2019 and swiftly returned to Easton to assume the role of full-time assistant coach.
“I wanted to stay in the game. Coaching, especially for my high school, seemed like a very special thing to do and a way to give back to a community that gave a lot to me,” Tierney said.
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The current batch of six seniors has had Tierney as a coaching influence for all four years of their careers.
“Since freshman year, he made everyone feel like they were part of the team,” Perron said. “That’s why everyone already knew and respected him.”
Said Tierney, “It’s easy to relate to them.
“It’s a lot of the same experiences. A lot of the teachers at the school, things they’re going through, midterms, things like that – I know where they’re all coming from and I know what the expectation is academically.”
Tierney also added that the team has completed a series of community service projects throughout the season, starting with putting a net up at Easton’s Yardley-Wood rink, pitching a hand at My Brother’s Keeper wrapping Christmas gifts and putting wreaths on the graves at the National Cemetery in Bourne.
“Instilling the sense of community that I felt when I was here, and being able to give the same experience to these kids, is something that’s really special to me,” Tierney said.
OA started the season winning three of its first four games by Dec. 29, defeating Rockland, Dartmouth and Old Rochester while the lone scar was a loss to Silver Lake in the opener. As a progress report, last year the team clinched its third total win in a game against Stoughton on Jan. 22.
“We knew it was going to happen,” said Perron of the leap forward. “We have great chemistry, we all love each other. It was just time to put all the pieces together and it’s all working out for us.”
The difficult tests continue to roll in, as the Tigers head to Lexington on Jan. 22 (6 pm) a few days before King Philip comes to town on Jan. 25 (5 p.m.). A second head-to-head with Plymouth South highlights the opponents down the stretch of February, the team’s second-to-last game of the regular season on Feb. 18 at 3 pm
“When you’re a player, it’s easy to get lost in each game and putting too much stock into one game. Whereas now, I’m older and I’ve experienced more of the game from a coach’s perspective, it’s more about the way you play, rather than the result,” Tierney said. “Especially with the new power rankings system, it’s not about just getting to 10 wins (to qualify for the tournament) anymore. It’s about playing the right way in games against good teams. I see that more now and I’m trying to instill that into our players.”