It’s hard to believe that just a few short years ago, Thomas Petrondi had a hand in bringing a girls ice hockey program to Bishop Shanahan.
Now, at the close of the 2014-15 season, his Shanahan girls are the reigning ICSHL Girls Varsity Champions, bringing the first ice hockey championship to the school for either the boys or girls.
“It’s really nice to see him be successful and win the championship,” said forward Audrey Farrell. “He has been there for so long. I’ve only been there a year, but I know how hard he has worked and it was really great to see that he was able to experience it, especially since it was Sara’s (his daughter) last year.”
It hasn’t been the easiest of roads for the Shanahan girls.
In the previous three years, the team has had finishes in ninth (2013-14), fifth (2012-13) and sixth (2011-12).
But that doesn’t mean the team has ever felt down and out.
“You’re encouraged to play the sport and want to keep trying,” said forward Grace Kane. “He pushes you to try your hardest. He’s always making sure we all get a chance to play and makes us really excited before we go out. He wants to win, but even if we don’t win, he’s still really proud of us.”
Kane, who has had Petrondi as a coach since she was 7, knows best what kind of coach he is and how much of an impact he has had on players.
“He’s the one who actually introduced me to the sport,” she said. “Ever since then, he has opened my eyes to how much I can learn and experience. He makes me feel like each one of the players is important to the game. He just has so much belief in us.”
His infectious personality has continued to bring girls in to play for him.
It has even kept some of his other coaches around.
“He’s a incredible guy,” said assistant coach Dave Crossett. “I’ve done this for four-plus years. My daughter graduated three years ago, so I should be done. I’m here because of Tom. He has the attitude that if you want to help, there’s a spot for you. That’s different from a lot of places.”
One thing both the players and other coaches can agree upon is that he is one of the best they have ever played for or coached beside.
“I have never seen a coach treat a kid as if it’s not just about hockey — it’s about the family,” Crossett said. “It’s hard to even describe. It’s not like what I’ve seen in any other sport. It’s not about winning — It’s about seeing the kids improve, getting better year after year and about the kids having fun and feeling like they’re part of a family. That’s what makes kids want to come play for him.”
Kane echoed Crossett’s sentiments.
“My other coaches always just thought of us as just a team and hockey as just a sport,” she said. “Coach Tom is special. He helps each one of us with anything that we need to work on. He believes in us. He doesn’t believe in one player and one player only. He believes in us as a team.”
His coaching style sets him apart from so many others, said Crossett.
Though they may not win every game, Petrondi made sure the girls could always leave with their heads held high.
“One of the mottos of us as coaches is we’re going to find the good things in what the kids do,” Crossett said. “We’re going to try and tell them how to get better, but we’re also going to tell them the good things. That comes from Tom.”
That style helps not only the experienced players, but also makes a difference for someone who is new to the sport.
“Even if someone isn’t having the best game, he encourages them and tells them all the things they’re doing right instead of putting them down,” Farrell said. “It makes them want to go out and try again.”
All of that rolled together is what made a difference this season for Bishop Shanahan as the girls were able to celebrate on the ice with their first championship.
And each one knew they couldn’t have done it without their coach behind them.
“I didn’t want to win it just for us,” Kane said. “I wanted to win it for him because he’s had such an impact on all of our lives. He deserved it.”