CHELMSFORD (CBS) – Every high school team is motivated as they enter the tournament each season. But Chelmsford High School boys hockey players have additional drive as they continue their quest for a state title.
The tenth-seeded Lions are into the North Division 1 semifinal thanks to wins over Melrose and Newburyport in the first two rounds of the tournament.READ MORE: 2 Dracut Police Cruisers Destroyed In Suspicious Fire At Station
Chelmsford has done so without the guidance of its leader, who has been battling cancer while his players battle opponents on the ice.
About two weeks into the season, head coach Mike McGrath had a biopsy done on his throat. When the results came back, the diagnosis was cancer.
Since his initials tests, McGrath has had the growth and his tonsils removed. On Monday, he started radiation and chemotherapy treatments.
“Mike’s one of the toughest men I’ve ever met in my entire life. He’s got a heart of gold and he’s going to attack this. I would expect nothing less,” interim head coach Scott Trahan told WBZ NewsRadio 1030.
“The road’s going to get a little hard for him, but he knows he has a boatload of support.”
“THEIR RESPONSE HAS BEEN FANTASTIC”
On McGrath’s way home from the hospital on Monday, he made a stop to watch the Lions beat Newburyport, 5-4. After the game was over, Trahan convinced him to come into the locker room to see the team.
“The kids went nuts when they saw him,” said Trahan.
McGrath hasn’t coached a game since January, but his team managed a 10-9-1 record to make the tournament and set up its pair of upset wins. But they’ve also impressed off the ice as well.
In January, McGrath was scheduled to come home from a four-day hospital stay after a storm dumped significant snow onto the coach’s long and winding driveway.READ MORE: It Happens Here: Learning To Play Polo, ‘The Game of Kings’, In Georgetown
With no influence from their coaching staff, the hockey team’s captains gathered their teammates and went to their coach’s house to shovel.
“These kids learned pretty quick what real life can be like. Their response has been fantastic,” said Trahan.
“They’ve taken it upon themselves to go out and play for coach. And it shows the respect the kids have for Mike. And it shows how these kids were brought up.”
“IT’S ALL ABOUT HOW YOU RESPOND”
The Lions hope to keep their inspirational playoff run going on Thursday when they take on No. 3 Arlington at 5:20 p.m.
Semifinal games are scheduled in advance on neutral ice. But Chelmsford will have the home crowd behind them on Thursday as the neutral ice happens to be Chelmsford Forum, the Lions’ home rink.
The winner of Thursday’s game will play Arlington Catholic or Andover on Monday in Lowell, with the victorious team receiving a berth in the state title game at TD Garden.
Regardless of when the team’s season comes to an end, Trahan said his players have shown him plenty already.
“I can’t thank them enough and I’m so proud to be their coach. With kids when adversity comes and you’ve dealt with adversity, it’s all about how you respond,” said Trahan.
“I could not be more happy and more proud of a group of kids at how they responded to the way they’ve responded to the things that have been thrown at them this year.”MORE NEWS: Coronavirus In Massachusetts: Today's Developments
Trahan talked with WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Drew Moholland: