Now one of the best schoolboy hockey players in the country, Boyle led St. Sebastian’s School of Needham, Mass., to consecutive New England championships in 2001 and ’02. That streak ended on March 2 when the St. Sebastian Arrows lost to Deerfield Academy in overtime of the New England Prep School Ice Hockey Association Division I title game in Salem, N.H.
St. Sebastian’s is a Catholic independent day school for 340 boys in grades 7 through 12. Now a senior, Boyle recently committed to Boston College after receiving offers from a number of prestigious colleges around the country.
His coach at St. Sebastian’s, Steve Dagdigian, is a 1975 graduate of Harvard University and a winger on championship teams of that era. “Brian’s a very talented athlete and what’s been great about him is his attitude and desire to get better every year,” he said. “We’re a small school, and Brian’s a great kid. He’s nice to his classmates and he’s nice to the seventh-graders, and that’s really what it’s all about.”
As a target of frequent cheap shots that big guys (he’s 6-foot-6, 225 pounds) in hockey come to expect, Boyle has learned to keep his emotions in check.
“Guys will try to get me out of the game one way or another, but we all put up with that,” he said. “It’s just something you learn to deal with.”
In the recent quarterfinal game at St. Sebastian’s rink against Phillips Exeter Academy, Boyle slammed his stick on the bench in frustration as he came in off his early shifts with his team behind. In the third period, he ripped home a go-ahead goal to secure victory for the Arrows.
Remarkably skillful as a passer and agile for a player his size, he is sometimes tempted to use his finesse to skate through opposing players rather than use his size to full advantage. “I’m aware that my size can help me around and in front of the net, and there’s a lot of chances for me there to bang home some rebounds,” he said.
Now that he is a senior, Boyle has been receiving increasing media coverage, but he hasn’t let it go to his head, according to his father and his coach.
“He’s gotten an awful lot of attention this year, and he’s handled it beautifully,” said Dagdigian.
Boyle’s father says that his son is competitive on the ice but kind and generous when he takes off the skates. “He’s got a gentle spirit that comes through when he’s taking care of his younger sister and brothers,” he said. “He has helped to take care of them, feed them and change their diapers.”
The size of the close-knit Boyle family in Hingham, south of Boston, is conducive to teamwork qualities of sharing and selflessness. Boyle is the seventh of 13 children ranging in ages from 28 to 5. His siblings include Jennifer, who’s 28, Artie, 27, Michelle, 26, Christopher, 24, Brendan, 21, Kathryn, 19, Julianne, 13, Gabrielle, 11, Timmy, 9, Nick, 7, and Andrew, 5. Another sibling, Joseph, died at age 2 from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome about 16 years ago.
“It’s awesome being from a big family like this,” Boyle said. “There’s always somebody around to do something with. It can get noisy, but it’s lots of fun.”
A center, Boyle’s favorite NHL players include Joe Thornton of the Bruins and 37-year-old Mario Lemieux of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who recently returned to the rink after beating cancer and overcoming major injuries.
“Mario’s probably the best player around,” Boyle said. “He’s a great passer and can score at will. I really admire him.”
Boyle’s father also beat cancer several years ago. “I had kidney cancer that had metastasized to my lung,” Arthur Boyle said. Following a pilgrimage to the village of Medjugorje in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1999, his cancer disappeared. “My doctor had said before I went that in the absence of a miracle, my cancer would likely spread,” he said. “Now it’s completely gone.”
On June 8, Arthur will be taking his son Brian along with him on a return group trip to the village where the Blessed Virgin Mary is reputed to have made apparitions since 1981.
Every Thursday evening at their home, Arthur Boyle leads a rosary group. “We have anywhere from 40 to over a hundred people there on any given week,” he said. “Family, friends, people we know, people we don’t know show up.”
Arthur Boyle said that his wife, Judy, has spearheaded the education of their children. “When we were deciding what school Brian would go to, she asked the headmaster at St. Sebastian’s, Bill Burke, why Brian should go to this school,” he said. “Mr. Burke pulled a rosary out of his pocket and said, ‘Because we’re Catholic and we believe in what we talk about.’ “
The Boyles liked that response. “He wasn’t apologetic about this being a Catholic school,” Arthur Boyle said. “He’s proud of his faith, and that’s the way our family is.” St. Sebastian’s School was founded in 1941 by William Cardinal O’Connell, archbishop of Boston.
“Brian’s future coach at B.C., Jerry York, is a daily communicant at Mass and we know he’ll be in good hands with him,” he said.
Brian Boyle, a former altar boy, said that his family and his religion mean a lot to him. “God’s very important in my life, and obviously I’m very blessed with a great family,” he said.
Boyle’s on-ice family includes some friends who share his family values and religious faith. Several of his senior teammates come from the Irish-American community of South Boston, including Ken Roche, Sean Sullivan, and Kevin Regan.
Now that the hockey season is over, Boyle is looking forward to playing shortstop on the school’s baseball team. And beginning in mid-April, he and his fellow seniors will be participating in a required five-week intensive community service program, which challenges all seniors to put into practice the moral and ethical convictions they developed at St. Sebastian’s.
Called Senior Service, this final educational experience involves one-to-one contact with needy persons in the community who are being served by non-profit organizations. At the end of the program, the entire senior class gathers in the school’s chapel to share their experiences.
With a strong foundation in education, faith and family, Brian Boyle will head off to college this fall with a bright future and a deep appreciation for the gifts he’s received from those around him.