Be prepared, always. You never know when you might run into an old classmate, friend or even rival. That’s what happened last March at the HarborCenter just outside the Victor Blue Devils locker room. Correction, the New York State Public High-School Division 1 champion Victor Blue Devils locker room.
There was a small crowd of reporters from the Rochester, NY neighborhood waiting to speak with head coach Mike Ferreri, fresh off defeating Section VI’s Niagara-Wheatfield in the State finals. I was among the professionals eager to talk with Ferreri. I’ve spoken to him before, we weren’t complete strangers. He’d been a guest in recent years on our podcasts and again the Friday night before championship weekend kicked off.
We joked about his college days at Brockport, me often confusing the guy, suggesting he went to Fredonia State (which for the record was a consideration). I never thought to ask him where he went to high-school or how he ended up at Victor.
This is a lesson for all aspiring journalists or broadcasters to know your subject. Who knew that Ferreri was a 1995 graduate of Kenmore East who also spent time student-teaching there? A simple trip down the information superhighway might have turned up something. Of course, asking him where he grew up would have answered that question long before.
He would have stayed too had a job opened up in the district sixteen years ago. That’s when Victor called and offered a position that Ferreri knew he couldn’t pass up. “I saw something there. Growth, opportunities it’s hard to explain but I felt it was something I could not pass up,” Ferreri said.
“I have a lot of family in Ken-Ton and I knew it would be hard to leave but seeing what was going on in Victor erased any of the doubts I had, it was easier than I thought, very welcoming.” Ferreri said.
Having been a competitor all his life, playing soccer, baseball and hockey through high-school and then collegiately at Brockport where he continued his baseball career, coaching was a natural fit.
He has fond memories of his time at Ken-East, post high-school, as a graduate assistant being around Jay Robbins, Dick White and Jim Dunnigan. Of course he remembers the rivalries with Kenmore West as a player too.
“Huge rivalry! I remember playing the East vs West baseball games at Sheridan Park under the lights. Game was always televised too. Hockey wasn’t as big. (Dick) White was my soccer coach, a great coach and person. He thought it was very ironic I was becoming a Blue Devil. Marv Matteson was my baseball coach, he is a great man and did some great things with our program.”
Paul Nasca the current varsity baseball coach of the St. Joe’s Marauders played an important role in his life when he played American Legion baseball. “I had a lot of good times back then playing for Paul, I loved that guy.”
Ferreri said his biggest influence came from his parents. “My Dad was the hardest worker I’ve ever known. He and Mom did whatever it took to allow us to play,” said Ferreri. His Father taught him to “find the good in everybody” which is a message he carries with him as a teacher and coach.
Ferreri threw his name out there in an attempt to stay local before choosing the Victor job. “I’m glad to be here. The facilities are great I couldn’t be in a better spot, honestly. Especially when you look at how much we’ve grown.”
When Ferreri arrived on the scene he jumped at the chance to coach hockey. Even though his first love is baseball, he grabbed the opportunity and never looked back. The Blue Devils have been on a roll in recent years which brought him back to WNY last month.
Victor was in search of their first State title. They roared into Buffalo riding a 20-0-4 record and Ferreri was a major factor in leading them to this point. “Trevor Sousa my assistant coach deserves a lot of credit. He brings an energy to the rink that really inspires our players,” Ferreri said.
Along with senior captain Mitch Rydzynski, who holds the school’s career point record, goaltender Chayse Ierlan, forwards Andrew Crean, Ashton Collazo and Sam Lambert the Blue Devils had a star-studded team that were destined for success this past season.
“Things have calmed down a little bit since the end of the season but I see these kids every day and the smiles are ear to ear, still to this day. They deserved it and it couldn’t have happened to a better group of players,” Fereri said adding “I’m just extremely proud of what they accomplished.”
Ferreri does not have to look hard to find inspiration. “You can find that just from your own home, coming from a good family that means everything to me.” Even from former players. Ferreri is quick to point out his admiration for Matt Roeder a former player that has worked through some off-ice medical issues to rebuilding his life around hockey and career.
“Matt is one of those kids that you look at and remember immediately what’s most important. At age of nine he was diagnosed with cancer. I remember him going to school and then leaving for treatment and then still make practice the same day,” Ferreri said.
Roeder was a practice squad player his freshman year, made the Varsity squad as a sophomore but was bit by the injury bug that season and again his junior year. His senior season was different though, Roeder was healthy and playing a big part in what the Blue Devils were trying to accomplish.
“We just played a big rival Canandaigua and tied them, 2-2, Matt played great,” Ferreri said. “Then he started to get headaches and had vision problems and he went back up to Boston and received some bad news.”
Roeder was done playing hockey and spent the next two years fighting the awful disease. “Matt comes from a very good family and has great support from the community,” Ferreri said. Roeder has gotten better and through it all even ended up back with Victor as a volunteer coach. Today he is attending RIT. “If that doesn’t inspire you I don’t know what will, he’s a very hardworking, determined kid,” Ferreri said.
Now with kids of his own beginning to skate Ferreri fields questions of when will he start to coach his own children? “We put a rink in the yard for the first time this past winter and I just threw them out there. Have fun skating, playing, just enjoying the family time.” His wife is a former Pembroke teacher that coached volleyball, now a stay-at-home Mom. Family is extremely important to Ferreri.
Ferreri says they make it back to his hometown regularly for birthdays, holidays and all the other special occasions that are important.
Ferreri attributes his success as a teacher and coach to his parents, who still live in the same house that he grew up in. His Grandfather was a World War II Veteran and a great baseball player in his day. “I can count on one hand the games he missed,” Ferreri said “He always came to see me play.”
Who know’s what would have happened had a job in Ken-Ton, Cheektowaga or Niagara-Wheatfield opened up. All I know is we let a good one go in Ferreri. Victor didn’t just win this past March, they won sixteen years ago.