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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Mike Sullivan's life of lessons
From toddlers to minor-leaguers to NHLers, the Lightning associate coach excels at getting his message across.
By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
Published October 18, 2007
[Dirk Shadd | Times]
Lightning associate coach Mike Sullivan, left, runs the defense during games but sometimes runs the whole team at practice.
BOSTON -- In another life, Mike Sullivan might have been a teacher.
You see it when the Lightning associate coach takes time with players, one-on-one if he has to, quietly getting his point across.
You understand it when his father talks about how the then-Boston University freshman coached a team of 6-year-olds, including his brother Brian, and schooled it on defensive zone coverages.
You hear it in the way Sullivan talks.
"I was fortunate," he said. "I was supported by people in my life who cared, and we were always looking out for everyone's best interest. It's important to give something back."
He has gotten the chance in his first season with Tampa Bay, where Sullivan already has become an echo of coach John Tortorella.
Consider Tortorella has twice allowed Sullivan to plan and run practice, something Tortorella said he had not allowed an assistant to do in his six previous seasons as coach.
Tortorella said he wants Sullivan, 39, to take even more responsibility, lead team meetings and be a presence in the locker room, when necessary, to keep the message fresh.
"I'm tired of hearing myself talk, really," Tortorella said. "The evolution of this team right now is to hear a different voice and a man with different ideas who is willing to challenge to get his ideas across. Sully has the strength to handle that."
Sullivan, as usual, will handle the defense during tonight's game with the Bruins at the TD Banknorth Garden.
It is a homecoming for the Marshfield, Mass., native, who grew up in the suburbs south of Boston, played four years at Boston University and coached the Bruins from 2003-06.
"You learn about yourself," Sullivan said of being an NHL head coach. "It helps you clarify and confirm your philosophy and your approach."
And that, he said, helps him teach.
Sullivan learned his most crucial lessons at home.
He said his father, George, a bank executive, preached themes of perseverance. Life and athletics are marathons, George told his son. Never give up and you will win.
Mother Myrna, a nurse, pushed academics and, as Sullivan explained, "wasn't afraid to make sure she disciplined us. It didn't matter where or what company we were in. We knew the line between right and wrong."
"It was important to us that they were honest and true to themselves," Myrna said of the family's five children. "In turn, because they were true to themselves, they would automatically be true to others."
Jimmy Meagher was a beneficiary. Sullivan's high school friend lost his mother to cancer when he was 12. With his father out of the picture, Meagher said he lived "on and off" for four years with cousins with whom he said he quarrelled.
The way Myrna remembers it, her son invited Meagher home to live before asking if it was okay.
"He called me one afternoon and said, 'Jimmy has no place to go,'" Myrna said. "He just didn't want anybody to hurt if it was unnecessary."
Sullivan this week tried to shrug off the generosity as something anyone would do. Meagher, who said he stayed with the Sullivans for 18 months until he left for college, had a different take.
"There aren't too many people like him in the world," Meagher said.
"When I got married, Mike was my best man. His parents were my parents. My first dance was with Myrna. They are my family."
A players' coach
No one seems surprised Sullivan is a coach. As Boston University coach Jack Parker said, "He always had a blueprint for how he was going to play. And he had everyone else's blueprint as well."
While in college, Sullivan started a summertime hockey school that continued for 20 years.
Tortorella knew all about Sullivan after coaching him in 1998-99 as an assistant with the Coyotes, one of four stops in Sullivan's 11-year playing career.
The two stayed in touch as Sullivan went from player to coach of the Bruins' AHL team in Providence, R.I., to his gig in Boston.
With similar philosophies about puck pursuit and using certain players in game situations rather than matching an opponent's personnel, Tortorella said Sullivan was the only person he considered after Craig Ramsay was fired.
He made an impression with drills new to Tampa Bay, such as the two-on-two battle between nets, guarded by goalies, placed at the center line and blue line. The players had a blast in the minigames, but Tortorella said it was all about "playing quick."
"I have total trust in what he's doing because he cares about the team and he cares about winning," he said of Sullivan. "There's nothing in his closet. He just wants to win."
And become part of the team fabric.
After a recent morning skate, Sullivan stayed on the ice 45 minutes and did conditioning drills with injured players Dan Boyle and Andreas Karlsson.
"He skates with us. I like that," Boyle said. "He knows what we're going through."
Sullivan said he survived the workout "barely. ... But I want them to know what we do out there is to make them the best players they can be. Those situations are an opportunity for me to support them in the process."
Meet Mike Sullivan Hometown: Marshfield, Mass. Age: 39 (Feb. 27, 1968) Family: Wife Kate; daughters Kaitlin, 15, and Kiley, 10; son Matt, 13 The skinny: Coached the Bruins from 2003-06, going 70-56-23 with 15 ties. ... Coached AHL Providence in 2002-03, going 41-17-4 with nine ties. ... Coached the United States national team at the 2007 World Championships in Russia. ... Was an assistant at the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy. ... Played center with the Sharks, Flames, Bruins and Coyotes from 1991-2002, recording 54 goals, 136 points and 203 penalty minutes in 709 games. ... A fourth-round pick (69th overall) by the Rangers in 1987. ... Played from 1986-90 at Boston University and was captain in his senior year. ... Father George, mother Myrna, sisters Kathie and Debbie, brothers George and Brian.