Players respond to Hanson because he is direct and unambiguous; when he speaks, his thick eyebrows seem to point at his listener. Colleagues respond to Hanson because he is a role model; first-year Catholic Memorial assistant coach Dale Dunbar, 34, who played briefly for both the Vancouver Canucks and the Bruins during the '80s, says, "I can learn as much from Bill as I could from [Bruin coach] Brian Sutter." And Hanson's bosses respond to the way he gets the job done. "He's a good, methodical teacher," says Brother Robert Harris, chairman of Catholic Memorial's science department, in which Hanson is a ninth-grade instructor. "He's energetic and enthusiastic. He is the kind of person who can control the entire cafeteria by himself. You don't need the other five faculty members who are there."
The coach takes pride in his reputation as a principled disciplinarian. He regularly checks his players' grades, SAT scores and class schedules. He monitors their college recruiting and holds firm to the belief that if he can get to school on time from his house 54 miles away on Cape Cod, his players can make it too. What all this does for the boys, Hanson says, "is develop their personalities to a point where they don't cheat on any part of their hockey."
About 150 of Catholic Memorial's 712 students aspire to a letter in hockey, beginning in the newly formed seventh-and eighth-grade intramural squads and proceeding up through the freshman, jayvee and varsity teams. "It's like Notre Dame football," says the father of one jayvee sophomore. "A kid might be a superstar. But there are just so many kids in front of him."
Players commute from as far as 30 miles away in hopes of playing Boston's own game at the next level. The brass ring is a scholarship to one of the top college hockey programs in the nation, many of which are in the Boston area.
"These kids are not all bright—some of them struggle in school—but they do the work," says John Realty, who has watched two of his sons play for Catholic Memorial: Jeff (class of '94 and the Quebec Nordiques' No. 1 draft pick) and Joe (now a sophomore defenseman for the Knights). "Sometimes after a late game, the tendency is not to go to school. That doesn't happen [at Catholic Memorial]. Here you go and do the job. I think that really prepares kids, not just for college, but for life in general."
"I just want to get into college," says Gray, nodding with uncharacteristic gravity. "I just want to get into college."
Some young Knights dare to envision suiting up as professionals after their college years—even, say, for their beloved Bruins. And such dreams seem reasonable when all a kid has to do is look across the ice during Catholic Memorial's annual alumni game to see the likes of Bruin forward Ted Donato, class of '87, who went on to Harvard and became the MVP of the 1989 NCAA championship game, a U.S. Olympian and the only player to appear in all 84 games that the Bruins played last season.
"They learn the rules no matter where they're playing, but they get taught at CM," says Gordie Clark, chief of scouting for the Bruins. "Some kids can go to juniors or to college and not even know the fundamentals of the game yet. You know your CM player's going to be fundamentally sound."
So that is why Hanson routinely distributes college recruiting letters at team meetings and spends time on the phone dictating the Knights' schedule to scouts. It's a good thing his team frequently plays well into the postseason, giving him enough time for these sideline duties.
It should once again. Thirteen players have returned from last year's championship team, and the Knights have already charged to a 7-0-1 record. Furthermore, they have a particularly strong incentive for getting back into the state tournament: This season's Massachusetts title will be the last to be decided in Boston Garden, which is to be torn down in September.