Garth Snow: From Woonsocket To Islanders Success
General manager of the New York Islanders looks back on his days at Mount Saint Charles.
For many of the talented hockey players who wear the scarlet, navy and white colors of Mount St. Charles Academy, graduating to the pros is a formality.
The Woonsocket hockey factory has produced a pair of No. 1 overall picks in Brian Lawton (1983) and Brian Berard (1995), plus another first-rounder in current Philadelphia Flyers goalie Brian Boucher (1995.) The list also includes Keith Carney, Jeff Jillson, Paul Guay and Mathieu Schneider, all of whom logged minutes in the NHL.
Then there's Garth Snow.
"Garth Snow wasn't good at all," said Mount St. Charles hockey coach Dave Belisle, with a laugh. "When he came in ninth grade, he was tall and a little clumsy. Then, he got better in 10th and in the 11th grade, and by 12th grade, he had grown into his body and became a really good goaltender. He worked for everything."
With extra effort, Snow carved out a similar path. After finishing his senior season by helping the Mounties continue its unprecedented run of 27 straight state championships, Snow was taken in the sixth round of the 1987 draft by the Quebec Nordiques. He spent 13 seasons with five teams, posting a 2.80 goals against average in 368 career games.
On July 18, 2006, he confirmed his retirement as a player and became general manager of the New York Islanders, another item Belisle never saw coming.
"Absolutely not," Belisle said. "No way did I see him as an executive. But he was a very competitive person. He had to compete for a starting job as a high-school goalie, then compete when he went to college [at the University of Maine], then he had to stay in the NHL. I'm sure that's why he likes the challenge of being a general manager."
Snow laughs at both of Belisle's assertions, knowing he's come a long way since his days at Mount.
"You never know when you look back on your own life whether you end up doing what you expected to be doing," Snow said. "It's funny. I think I went through a growth spurt in that period of my life and was a clumsy kid. I wasn't the most talented athlete, or in my case, goalie, but I compensated with hard work."
He still is, as he undertakes a different challenge as an executive. The Islanders made the playoffs in Snow's first season at the helm, losing to the Buffalo Sabres in the first round. They then embarked on a long rebuilding process that is starting to show results with players like John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen, Michael Grabner and Matt Moulson.
None of it would be possible, he surmises, without developing toughness at his alma mater. He learned under legendary coach Bill Belisle, still going at 81, and his son, Dave, who shares coaching duties.
Born in Wrentham, MA., Snow played youth hockey in Foxboro before attending Mount in 7th grade. He didn't get to many Bruins games growing up, so Mounties games were "like the NHL" for the impressionable kid. He dreamed of playing for the team.
Like Boucher, Berard and others, Snow's ability to learn how focus in practice was of paramount importance.
"Every practice was treated like a Game 7," he said. "If I gave up a bad goal in practice, I might hear, 'Change the net!' If you didn't perform at a high level, or in my case, if I didn't make a save, I would get practice time eliminated. It was a challenge every day to be better. I wouldn't have wanted it any other way.
"He was a great teacher not just in hockey, but of life lessons," Snow said of Belisle. "He was probably one of the key role models that I've had in my life who helped me become the person I am."
A big lesson came during his senior season. Snow recalled struggling in a game against rival Bishop Hendricken, which led to fears that he might not play against them the following week.
"I remember being very down on myself, and talking to my mother and father about how that week would be in practice, and if I'd play again," Snow said. "Coach Belisle pulled me aside on the bus [on the way to the game] and told me I was playing that night. We won 2-1 and I had a great game. To me, that's a great memory of facing adversity and working my butt off to redeem myself. I was fortunate that he gave me that opportunity."
His greatest memory?
"Winning the state championship, of course," he said. "Beating Hendricken again for that was a fun moment for me and for our team. I have a lot of great memories of Mount. There was so much success with the program and I was fortunate to be part of it."