“It’s all about the kids.”
Photography by Deborah McCarthy
If you’ve ever stepped foot in the Murphy Rink in the last thirty years, you’ve probably seen Teddy Cunniff. Whether he’s behind the counter sharpening skates, on the ice teaching kids how to skate, or coaching on the bench, Teddy is a fixture at the rink. His knowledge of the sport of hockey and his talent on the ice in his prime is helping shape future stars on the ice right here in South Boston. He is a local legend and a valuable member of our community shaping our youths. This month he will be honored at the South Boston Youth Hockey League Reunion and Fundraiser for his commitment and dedication to the children of South Boston and to the sport of hockey.
Teddy grew up on East Second Street near M Street Park. His mother Mary Flaherty Cunniff was a single mother and raised three boys, John, Teddy and Robert. He and his brother John began skating at M Street Park back in the days when the City of Boston used to flood the parks in the winter in Southie. Teddy played hockey for South Boston CYO under the guidance of Frank Murphy, a hero firefighter who died in the line of duty and namesake of the Francis J Murphy Rink. “Frank would drive all us to games. He was so dedicated and like so many other Southie coaches, he loved what he did and was there to help kids.”
Inspired by Frank Murphy, Teddy has been involved with the South Boston Youth Hockey League for the past 34 years. He was vice president for 17 years and president for seven years. Teddy believes that youth sports are a great way to engage our kids in physical activity that helps provide a foundation for a healthy lifestyle and also teaches kids to be part of a team. “It’s important to teach kids how to win and lose gracefully. Being on a team also teaches kids how to tackle life situations and accept challenges but most importantly it’s about the kids having fun,” says Teddy.
Pay it forward:
Southie dad, Joe Burke was coached by Teddy as kid down the Murphy Rink. Teddy’s style and commitment were motivating factors to make Joe help out and coach South Boston Youth Hockey. “Whether it was on ice during a practice or hanging out during public skating at his pro shop, Teddy always talked hockey with his players and whoever was lucky enough to be around, he would constantly say ‘You play the way you practice and you have to have discipline!’ Teddy was a great hockey player and an even better coach,” says Joe.
According to Teddy, it’s the dedicated volunteers and parents that help keep the South Boston Youth Hockey league in existence. “The neighborhood has changed and not as many kids are playing hockey. The parents are bringing their kids to the rink. They are driving all over the place, taking their kids to games. Coaches are committed to the kids too. They spend hours of their own time out their teaching kids the skills of skating and hockey.”
Legend has it
Teddy played for South Boston High and at a game in 1962, scored an unbelievable 13 goals in 30 minutes. Yes, 13 goals in 30 minutes. That record still stands. His brother John played for Boston College, was on the Olympic mens hockey team and played professionally for 12 years. John also coached for the Olympics and for the NHL. “John was quoted in the paper saying I got a lot of heat for scoring all those goals. And I did,” says Teddy.
The scoop on Teddy:
- Married to Marie Cunniff
- Father of Michelle and Merredith
- Grandfather of Thomas, Liam, Maeve and Neila
- Went to Gate of Heaven and graduated from South Boston High School in 1963.
- Scored 13 goals in one game in 1962
- Worked for 40 years for Local 17 as as Sheet Metal Worker.
- Winning: Of the banners that hang from the rafters at the rink, 21 of them have been won by Teddy’s teams. 16 – State Championships, 5 National Champs. “The players make the coach,” Teddy says humbly when asking to reveal his secret to coaching.
From being at the rink for a lifetime, Teddy has seen some amazing Southie players come through the youth hockey league. When asked who are the Top 5 players to come out of SBYHL he lists:
- Fred Ahearn
- John Cunniff
- Paul Barrett
- Brian Noonan
- Billy O’Dyer
What about the girls in the league?
We’ve had some amazing girls come through South Boston Youth Hockey. Kelly Foley, who played for Dartmouth. Megan Long, played for UNH and Deanna McDevitt player for Princeton. In 1990, Loretta McGarrell and Don Foley started the girls’ hockey program. I loved coaching them. Later on Mary Balaconis coached and made the program even more successful and it grew to 50 girls.
Best memory at the rink?
Loved coaching the travel teams but I have to say my best memories are from coaching the house leagues for 34 years. There are so many girls and boys in this program that have such potential. It’s fun to see them learn and grow and develop into really talented players. Lots of kids go on to play in high school and college.
Best way to teach a kids how to skate?
I think the perfect age to start is four years-old. Don’t rush it. You need patience and as Arnie Bailey (Founder of Arnie’s Army – Learn to Skate) use to say, “Make it fun!’ He was the best! Such an amazing guy.
South Boston Youth Hockey League Reunion and Fundraiser
South Boston Youth Hockey is celebrating the season with a special South Boston reunion and fundraiser on Saturday, November 30th at The Teacher’s Union Hall at 7pm. There will be live music featuring Southie’s favorite band, Thomas Park, a tribute to Teddy, raffles and a cash bar. “It will be a wonderful night to connect with old friends and meet some new ones. Southie is famous for giving back and hockey folks are number one when it comes to giving support to our children and the community,” says Teddy. He goes on to add, “One of the most important things we can do in our lives is to help our youth develop in a positive and confident way.” Teddy has been living by these words for the past 34 years.