NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — Merrimack head coach Chris Serino, diagnosed with throat cancer which forced him to step down in late October, said he is making terrific progress and plans a return to the bench following the Christmas break.
“I just finished my last major chemo[-therapy] session, and the tumor I have has shrunk 85 percent,” said Serino. “Things are looking good. I have to start radiation on the 17th of December, and go for seven weeks of that.”
The affable fourth year head coach of the Warriors learned in late August that he had cancer, shocking his team and the college hockey community. After attempting to juggle difficult chemotherapy treatments and coaching duties, he announced on Oct. 30 that he would turn over the reins to associate head coach Mike Doneghey for at least the remainder of the fall semester, taking on what he termed at the time a “GM” type of role.
“I’ve been doing some administrative stuff, scheduling, fundraising for the arena, things like that,” said Serino. “I’d love to be down there on the ice, but going down there, coming off the ice, and trying to interfere, doesn’t give the true authority to Mike, Stuie [Irving] and Lou [Finocchiaro] that they need, so I’ve been trying to stay away from them.
“We’ll sit and talk once or twice a week about what’s going on, but they’re making the decisions, good ones. I’m just trying to pick up the slack of all the other things to alleviate them of those duties.”
According to Serino, even with the shift in roles requiring assistants Doneghey and Irving to stay closer to home, recruiting for Merrimack has not missed a beat.
“I’ve been trying to be on the road myself,” noted Serino. “One of the things I can do is watch games. So, in the past few weeks I’ve been out on the road, watching and trying to help in those situations. We were lucky to sign some guys early (forwards Brent Gough and Nick Pomponio) and get some other commitments early, so we’ve got a pretty good recruiting class in hand already.”
With the Christmas break just around the corner and his condition improving, Serino is already looking forward to his return to the bench.
“If we keep winning, I’ll stay home,” Serino quipped. “I plan to be back after Christmas, while I start my radiation, and just play it by ear. If I can handle the radiation and coaching I’ll do it, if I can’t, I’ll step down again. I’m just itching to get going again and hopefully I’ll be back for the Vermont tournament. That’s my plan right now.”
Merrimack faces Dartmouth and Vermont in the Sheraton/Howard Bank Classic in Burlington on Dec. 28-29.
Serino, 52, is married with five sons. He spoke of the support he has received from the Merrimack and college hockey communities during the toughest battle of his life.
“It’s been humbling and overwhelming. I can’t possibly get back to all the people who sent things in, but I do want to thank them all. They’ve been fabulous to me and my family. It’s an experience I’ll never forget.”