Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Local hockey coach just trying to keep a roof over his head

Even for a hockey coach, John Haggerty had a lot of blood on his hands.

As an assistant hockey coach with La Salle College High School since 1994, twice he’s had to jump the boards to close a serious wound.

“I guess he had paramedic training, from before,” remembers former La Salle goalie Matt Palmer. “There was a kid who got his jugular vein nicked by a skate blade. Hag jumped out on the ice and clamped it shut with his fingers until he was on the operating table in the emergency room.”

A few years later, Haggerty watched as one of his defenseman went after an opposing player.

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“As the kid shot, the blade broke off his stick,” he recalls. “So when he followed through, our guy ran right into him and the stick went into his thigh and opened up his femoral vein.”

Once again, the assistant coach was pulled wound-clamping duty until the ambulances arrived. Even Haggerty admits this is a large number of potentially fatal moments for a hockey coach to see in a single career.

“I hope I don't have to do it again,” he says.

By the law of averages alone, Haggerty should hopefully find his remaining coaching years free of panicked breaths and howling sirens. To hear his former players tell it, on-the-ice life-saving is just a fraction of Haggerty’s persona. By day, he’s a talented woodworker, crafting staircases, furniture, and bars, inspired by his natural desire to “make things.” By night, he coaches hockey for a program full of athletes who can recall his generosity and good nature long after they’ve become alumni.

But sadly, his selfless roots aren’t saving him from more current traumatic, if bloodless, personal problems. Due to financial issues stemming from mismanaged banks and medical trouble, John Haggerty may soon lose his house.

Fortunately, the players he’d helped for so long as a coach are coming to his aid.

A hockey coach/carpenter isn’t a lucrative lifestyle, financially, and given the personal resources Haggerty pours over those in need, his situation was never on stable ground. Then, the U.S. economy went sideways in 2008 and he found himself closer to the edge; getting an up-close perspective on horrors that blood-spewing neck wounds just can’t capture.

“It was the horror stories you hear - they lose paper work, you've got to resubmit stuff again,” Haggerty says. “I’ve been doing that since then, trying to get the loan modified,” he says. “It's been quite trying. I had to file for bankruptcy last year to get the house. Then I had a money problem a couple months ago when somebody else suddenly didn't have money to pay me.”

Customers have a way of weaseling out of due payments; two in recent years have decided they couldn’t summon the necessary funds after Haggerty had put in $8,000-$9,000 of work into a project. The financial hit triggered the clinical depression for which Haggerty is on medication. Medical issues and having to move his wood shop only compounded his troubles, and he found himself needing to raise $67,000 or face the loss of his house -- the same house in which he’s helped so many others.

“Once you’re behind, they only accept everything that you owe them. So that's where I'm at right now,” he says with a sigh.

And so, the man whose friends would say the world owes a few favors has a debt due.

“Hopefully I can keep my house,” he says.

Talking to Haggerty today, you wouldn’t necessarily know he was a man in danger of having his home swallowed by the bank, which doesn’t catch anyone who knows him off guard. As the laid-back assistant coach, Haggerty was just as likely to have the players run drills as he was to take them out for Taco Tuesday at the Mexican place down the street or help them with homework.

“He was real good with math,” former La Salle hockey player Michael McAnulty recalls. “That’s the toughest part. He did so much to help us out. With how good he was, how giving he was, he puts everyone else before himself.”

"He had a very extensive knowledge of hockey, and by having him on the ice, I know we all benefited," Lou Volpe, another former player, agrees. "I attribute a lot of my success as a hockey player to the stuff I learned from him."

Haggerty shrugs it off.

“I don't know,'' he says. "I'm a little surprised that everybody isn't that way. I don't think I'm special.”

The La Salle College High School hockey circle is a tight one (many have appeared in each others' weddings), with many of the players staying in touch with each other long after their playing days. Their bond allowed for word of Haggerty’s predicament to spread quickly and inspired the fundraising web site through which visitors can make donations to help Haggerty keep his house.

“Awesome, and a little overwhelming,” Haggerty says of the support. Hopefully, it will keep coming through his end of the month deadline. Until then, he'll be headed for hockey practice.

“He seems to be the same John,” says McAnulty. “He doesn’t really seem down about anything. John seems like he’s going about his regular day and not letting it affect him.”

Haggerty is now relying on the benefactors of his outlook to provide him with the same support he always gave to them.

"The things that he instilled in us stayed with me through today," says Volpe. "He always told us to care for everyone, to put people in front of yourself when they need it the most, because it comes full circle."

You can donate here.

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