AS SMOOTH AS ICE Gaels can thank Maher for bringing team to new hockey heights


For a good winter show, see the Ice Capades -- or watch Mount St. Joseph's Mike Maher.

When Maher first arrived at Mount St. Joseph three years ago, the Gaels struggled as the Maryland Scholastic Hockey League's worst team.

Now Maher is a junior, and the Gaels lead the league's Northern Division with a 4-0 record, including a 6-3 victory over second-place Gilman (3-1).

And Gaels coach Bob Flaherty said Maher, a three-year starter, is responsible.

"He's been playing for us for three years and he's got very good skills," said Flaherty. "He carries all of the intangibles that are required for leadership. He's got the respect of all of his teammates."

Maher also has the respect of his opponents.

From his wing position, Maher has six goals and nine assists, including a three-assist effort in a victory over Loyola.

But as indicated by his assist total, the 16-year-old is an unselfish player.

"He's very good on defense, and sometimes we have to play him back there, also," said Flaherty. "But he has no problem with that."

As team captain, Maher agreed it's the least he can do.

"Scoring goals is my chief concern," he said. "But I'll go back on penalty killing if we need that extra guy."

Among the league's swiftest skaters, Maher feels he has been most effective on power plays,where he said five of his goals have been scored.

But Maher is equally comfortable when the Gaels' goal is being pressured, such as when the other team has the power play and he can launch a surprise attack.

"I think I'm better when we're short-handed," said Maher, a 5-foot-9, 150-pounder. "I'd like to play Division III hockey because I doubt I'm big enough to play Division I."

However, Maher's instincts, speed and quickness make him a threat from almost anywhere on the ice.

"He's an extremely effective one-on-one player," said Flaherty, adding that Maher can shoot with either hand.

Maher first skated when he was 5 and began honing his hockey skills a year later for the Chesapeake Bay Chiefs at Piney Orchard.

From there, he played for the Washington Little Capitols out of Southeast D.C., before joining his present club team, Howard County's Midget A squad.

"I'll also play lacrosse in the spring," said Maher. "But I basically play hockey year-round."

After a disappointing freshman season, Maher led the Gaels to a state runner-up finish to Centennial last year, losing in the title game, 6-3.

This year's playoffs are Feb. 24-25, with the winners of the Northern, Central and Southern divisions qualifying. The team with the next-best record will be a wild card.

Defending state champion Centennial (6-0) is the Central Division leader, and DeMatha (4-0) is atop the Southern Division.

The Gaels will meet DeMatha in a Feb. 19 regular-season finale in Bowie.

"We expect to go back to the title game this year," said Maher, "and we expect to play DeMatha."

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