AMESBURY — When Amesbury hockey coach Chris Kuchar fell ill at the start of the preseason, a hockey community came forth to meet the challenge.
Kuchar’s health concerns came at the worst time. On just the second day of tryouts, a lingering cold escalated into pneumonia, hospitalizing the coach for a week. While being away from his team for seven days may not appear to be damning, the time missed amounted to half of his team’s preseason preparation.
“This being a short (pre)season because of the late Thanksgiving, it makes it especially difficult,” Kuchar said. “Having a somewhat young team (only three seniors) adds to the challenges. However, most players from last year are back so youth is not an excuse.”
Those affiliated with the Indians had no option other than going the extra mile. Kuchar fought pneumonia to meet his assistant coaches, who fought traffic after every practice to make the trip to the hospital.
“I met with my assistant coaches, Rick Poulin and Steve Belmonte, each night in my hospital room to go over cuts, players being sent to JV, evaluation of that day’s practice and what I would like for them to do the following day in practice,” Kuchar said. “It was a lot to throw at them (because they are first-year coaches), but they handled it very, very well and the kids responded and worked hard for them.”
Support was also given to the ailing coach from within the fraternity of hockey coaches, as well as Kuchar’s past players.
“It was nice to hear from (Newburyport coach) Paul Yameen and a couple of other coaches and former players who had found out,” Kuchar said. “When you’re lying in a bed 18 hours per day, it’s a nice boost.”
The effort also extended beyond the ice.
“At home, my wife was coming to the hospital daily to check on my updates and treatments, while at the same time bringing our 5-year-old son to and from school and being home with our 2-year-old daughter,” Kuchar said. “I’m sure it was exhausting for her, and I could tell. Not only was I feeling awful, but I felt badly for the amount of stress and pressure she was under to maintain the house and family in my absence.”
The herculean effort of his wife was made possible by the families of some of Kuchar’s players, who also stepped up to help.
“The parents of players got together some nights to bring food to my family so my wife wasn’t running all over the place and coming home to feed the kids after leaving the hospital,” Kuchar said. “The King family, Chamberlain family, Cross family, Belmonte family and Nasser family — and I’m sure several more — all chipped in in some way and we felt the support given by all.”
The communal effort to keep a team, its coach and his family afloat through troubled waters is something that Kuchar has come to expect from his extended hockey family.
“(It) has always been a unique one in my eyes,” he said. “Whenever there’s an issue with someone in need, regardless of what school or team they play or played for, these ‘families’ seem to rise to the occasion.”
Kuchar has since returned to his duties as head coach despite the stresses it puts on him. Yelling out instruction and putting players where they need to be is draining for a body still healing. Kuchar knows his recovery will be extended, but the season starts Saturday against Triton, so missing more time wasn’t an option.
“With the season starting against a league rival on Saturday, I really don’t have a choice,” he said. “No one will feel sorry for our team, and they shouldn’t. We just need to keep on moving forward each day and working to catch up and be ready to compete at the level I’ve come to expect from this program.”