By Cary Shuman
Thirty years ago Robert Winthrow led the Winthrop High School hockey team to one of its greatest victories in its glorious history.
The starting senior goaltender playing before a packed house at Larsen Rink, Withrow made 70 saves to spark Winthrop to a 6-5 victory over Saugus, handing the Sachems their only loss of the season.
Making it an even more special night for Withrow and his family, including his parents and his identical twin brother, Robert Withrow who were in attendance – was the fact that he was celebrating his 18th birthday on that day, January 28, 1987.
A longtime player in Winthrop Youth Hockey, Withrow succeeded Craig Nolan as the Vikings’ goaltender and was in net for the entire 1986-87 season. It was Tom Holmen’s first season as head coach following a successful tenure by Bill Falasca, who was inducted posthumously in to the WHS Athletic Hall of Fame.
Withrow was a potent force in a talented senior class that included captains Steven Holgersen, Rolf Beutel, Todd Conley, and Richard D’Avolio. The Vikings would finish the season with a 12-4-2 record and earn a berth in the State Tournament.
But the game that Withrow and his teammates still remember vividly is the showdown with Saugus High, a powerhouse squad that was led by legendary coach, Chris Serino, father of current WHS director of athletic Matt Serino.
“Saugus came to Winthrop with a perfect record, but we were confident because we had a good team and felt we could beat them,” recalled Withrow.
Saugus peppered Withrow with 70 shots from every angle. He made 65 saves and was at its best as Winthrop held a one-goal lead late in the game and the Sachems had added a sixth attacker.
“That game was the highlight of my career, it was a big win and it was just awesome – it was on my birthday,” said Withrow, who turned 48 two weeks ago. “I saw a lot of shots but my defense were great that night in clearing the puck.”
Between the second and third periods of the game, a special visitor greeted Withrow in the locker room. It was a gentleman who had become a national sports hero seven years earlier.
“Mike Eruzione came in to the lockerroom and said to me, “you’re playing great; you’re seeing so many shots and you’re leaning forward a little, I want you to work on your balance,” said Withrow. “That advice was very helpful and it inspired me. I was 11 when Mike scored that goal in the Olympics and I was on the [Belle Isle] Bridge when he came back to Winthrop. The bridge was packed.”
Withrow said coach Tom Holmen helped him become a better goaltender and made the team a close-knit, hard-working squad.
Coming off the ice after the signature victory of the season, Robert Withrow said he was congratulated by his father, Richard, and signaled graciously to his mother, Carole, and his brother, Richard Jr.
Withrow also remembers following his older brother Gary’s football career at Winthrop High School. Gary was a starting wingback on the Super Bowl champion 1983 team.
“I remember it well – Winthrop beat Xaverian, 14-3 in Foxborough,” said Richard, who played fullback and linebacker for coach Bob DeFelice’s teams in the mid-1980s.
But just like Gary’s Super Bowl triumph, Robert has a memory to last a lifetime.
Robert and his wife, Jeannine, live in Winthrop and they have a 9-year-old daughter, Sophia, who attends the Cummings School.
“Maybe now she’ll believe that I did play some hockey,” said Robert.
Yes, Sophia, your dad played the game very well and boy, did he put on a show on January 28, 1987 – the day he lifted Winthrop High and his hockey team to one of its greatest-ever triumphs.
Any one who was at Larsen Rink [which is now the Larsen Rink at the Mike Eruzione Center] will tell you Robert Withrow was the No. 1 star of the game.