Last Sunday evening, in a ceremony held at Montvale Plaza in Stoneham, Norwood High boys hockey coach Bill Clifford was recognized by the Massachusetts State Hockey Coaches Association. Along with several other first-rate Bay State hockey coaches, Clifford was inducted into the MSHCA Hall of Fame in the 41st annual event.
Joining Clifford in a night of awards, speeches, and more than a few good hockey stories were fellow honorees Bob Conceison of Burlington, Bob Anthony of East Boston, and Tom Humphreys of Wakefield.
"To be in the company of these great hockey coaches inducted this year and those already in the Hall of Fame is truly an honor," said Clifford. "I was very surprised to hear about it at the beginning of the season and I’m very humbled by the experience."
Paul Podolski, former Dedham hockey coach and coaches’ representative to the MIAA hockey committee, was not at all surprised to learn that his hockey rival for the past 12 years was the recipient of this tribute.
"Over the years, Norwood has been an extremely conscientious, hard-working team and Billy and his staff have done a super job with their program," said Podolski, a previous inductee who attended the banquet. "They’re highly disciplined and their work ethic is as good as anybody in Massachusetts. I think Billy’s years as an assistant coach contributed to the decision of the executive board to induct him. It was certainly well-deserved."
Clifford traces his lengthy hockey pedigree back to the early 1960s when, as a 7-year-old, he laced up for Saturday morning skates at the old Tabor Arena in Needham. Soon thereafter, he joined his first organized hockey program.
"Tom Brown started up a youth program in Norwood," Clifford recalled. "I played Pee Wee hockey and later, joined a traveling team. I skated with the same bunch of kids, year-after-year, until we all reached high school."
It was while skating for the Mustangs that Clifford earned his rightful place in the annals of Norwood hockey history.
On the evening of Wednesday, March 12, 1972, the majority of the Norwood townspeople could be found filling to capacity, the old Boston Garden. They were on hand to urge their beloved Mustangs hockey team to a first-ever state championship.
"There was a little over two minutes left," recalled Clifford who was a 17-year-old senior at the time. "I was skating down the right wing and Eddie King was going hard to the net. I directed the puck over to him and he tipped it in for the game-winner."