By Ed Flaherty
Many pro athletes face a dilemma once their playing days are over as they seek new challenges and outlets for their competitive nature.
Carl Corazzini (Framingham, Mass.) played 19 games in the NHL before taking his spot behind the Weston High bench. (Photo courtesy of Weston High School)
A pair of former Massachusetts schoolboy hockey standouts who closed their lengthy pro careers in 2011 wasted little time in solving that dilemma by making the transition from professional player to high school coach.
Paul Mara and Carl Corazzini are taking on new roles as their hockey careers continue down a new path this season.
Mara, 32, is the first-year boys head coach at Bourne High School, while Corazzini, also 32, takes over as the boys head coach Weston High School.
For both Mara and Corazzini, the move from player to coach wasn’t a planned transition, but they have approached their new jobs with the same enthusiasm that marked their professional playing careers.
“I never really thought much about (coaching),” Mara said. “I was training toward returning to the NHL. The opportunity became available and I was excited about it. Now my passion is coaching.”
“This kind of fell into my lap,” Corazzini said. “I want to pass along any knowledge I can.”
Mara, a native of Belmont, Mass., played two years of high school hockey at Belmont Hill before making the move to junior hockey in the Ontario Hockey League.
Now the head coach at Bourne High, Paul Mara (Belmont, Mass.) ended his lengthy NHL career with the Canadiens. (Getty)
A defenseman, Mara was a first-round draft choice (No. 7 overall) of the Tampa Bay Lightning. From 1998 through 2011 he played in 734 NHL games with the Lightning, Phoenix Coyotes, Boston Bruins, New York Rangers, Anaheim Ducks and Montreal Canadiens.
He had career totals of 64 goals and 189 assists for 253 points over parts of 13 seasons and made five playoff appearances, playing in 33 games with three goals and four assists.
Mara, who spent summers as a kid in Falmouth, Mass., was a member of the hometown Bruins for 53 games during the 2006-07 season, coming to Boston from Phoenix in a trade for fellow defenseman Nick Boynton.
With the Bruins, Mara played in 59 games and had three goals and 15 assists. He was traded to the Rangers for Aaron Ward during his lone season in Boston.
“It was a great 12-year career that I had and I’m thankful for every one of those years,” Mara said. “It was an amazing experience.”
Corazzini took a different route to a career in professional hockey. After attending St. Sebastian’s School in Needham, Mass., Corazzini enjoyed a four-year standout career at Boston University, where he had 62 goals and 55 assists in 150 career games.
He also was a member of three consecutive Beanpot-winning teams at BU.
Corazzini, a native of Framingham, Mass., was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Bruins in 2001 and played a total of 19 games in the NHL, with two goals and an assist.
Both goals were scored with the Bruins, in one game against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
Corazzini’s career included stints in the American Hockey League and East Coast Hockey League, as well as with professional teams in Finland, Sweden and Germany.
“Playing in (Europe), it’s something I’m going to remember for the rest of my life,” Corazzini said. “I’m so fortunate. I got out of hockey what I wanted: an education (St. Sebastian’s and Boston University), and I’ve made lifelong friends and had great experiences.”
The men in charge of bringing in new coaches for their respective high schools couldn’t be happier with how the rookie bench bosses have performed from the start.
“I think it’s been going very well. I’m very pleased with the way he’s handling the team,” Weston High School athletic director Mike McGrath said of Corazzini. “He’s a positive person and keeps scholastics in the forefront. He’s a great role model for the kids as well.”
“His passion is outstanding,” Bourne High School athletic director Scott Ashworth said of Mara. “He’s just doing it the right way.”
Both coaches bring a wealth of experience and hockey knowledge with them to their new posts, something that isn’t lost on the athletic directors at their respective schools.
“With all of his hockey experience, he’s got to be one of the most unassuming pro athletes,” Ashworth said of Mara. “Unless someone told you, you would never know he was a pro hockey player. He played in the (NHL) playoffs last year. He just got off the ice in The Show. I think the players will look up to him.”
“It’s very exciting for the kids and it’s just going to help the future of our program going forward,” McGrath said of Corazzini. “It’s very fortunate for the kids to have someone as knowledgeable (as Carl is) as their coach. The kids are really excited, the community is really happy with him.”
Their professional careers may have taken divergent paths, but Mara and Corazzini share similar coaching philosophies behind the bench.
“I just go in there every day and try to teach these kids to play the game the right way, how to do the little things right,” Mara said. “These kids are like sponges. You tell them and they remember.”
“You have instant credibility, but at the same time you have to realize that they’re not going to understand everything right away,” Corazzini said. “You have to show them, break it down to them.”
As any parent of a young athlete can attest, watching the game can prove to be more stressful than playing, as both new coaches have quickly discovered.
“I think I’m taking this part of the game more seriously than I took my playing,” Corazzini said.
“We had a scrimmage and I was all anxious and pumped up the night before,” Mara said. “I was playing in front of 20,000 fans last year in Montreal, and I wasn’t that nervous.”
Mara and Corazzini, who played together in their youth travel hockey days for the South Shore Kings and on national teams, now find themselves on a new path in their hockey lives.
Both men already have found their coaching voice just weeks into their debut seasons, keeping the same approach that resulted in success on the ice.
“I tried to keep my same demeanor that I had as a player,” Mara said. “You have to be positive with these kids and be stern with them sometimes.”
“My demeanor on the ice was pretty laid back and that may have hindered me from playing in the NHL (for an extended period),” Corazzini said. “It helps me off the ice. I try to be calm and take that approach with the kids. I try to focus on the positive. I didn’t have the most skill, but I played the game hard.”
The rookie coaches also have quickly grasped what high school athletics is all about: the players.
“I want the kids to be successful and have so much fun,” Corazzini said.
“Things have been going great so far,” Mara said. “The kids have been fantastic. They’ve been really receptive. We’ve all helped each other.”
This article originally appeared in the January 2012 issue of New England Hockey Journal.
Ed Flaherty can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org