ORLEANS ─ Dan Eberly put his hockey pads away some time ago, but each year without fail he can be found on the ice in Boston once again, presenting a key award at the annual Beanpot Tournament. It's an award he knows well, especially since the Eberly Award is named after him and his brother.
First presented in 1974, the award is given annually to the goalie with the best save percentage in the tournament. The Eberly brothers, Dan and his older brother Glen, inspired the award through their own talent in net in the '60s and '70s.
“My brother played for Boston University and I played for Northeastern,” said Eberly during a break from work at Watson's Men's Store in Orleans, which he owns.
Glen played under renowned head coach Jack Kelley, who ended up building a dynasty of great teams during his tenure, while Dan laced up his skates for Northeastern, both fending off an average of 40-50 shots a game, doing battle against powerhouse opponents that included players like Timmy Sheehy.
Eberly said that prior to the award bearing his family name, there was another given that was originally based on fewest goals against, something that was ultimately deemed less fair.
“A guy might have 20 shots on goal and allow one or two goals, and somebody on the other end might be overpowered with shots, 40-50 on goal, and allow three goals and the team loses. He's got more goals against, but his performance during the event was at a higher caliber than the guy who had less goals.”
When the decision was made to change the requirements to save percentages, the Eberly's were known for their own stellar percentages, inspiring the name of the award.
“We had very high save percentages,” Eberly said. “[Opponents] were getting four or five goals, but we'd be facing 50 shots, so that's a 90 percent save percentage.”
When he learned of the award name, he was humbled.
“It was incredible,” he said. “But it wasn't just for me. My brother had finished playing nine years before. He was kind of my idol when I was growing up.”
Eberly was on hand to present the first Eberly Award, and has been there each year since, even traveling to Boston during the Blizzard of 1978.
“I've seen some great games and some great goaltenders,” he said. “A lot of great goaltenders have gone on and had a pro career of some length, which is pretty impressive.”
Eberly himself had a decent run. After his final season at Northeastern he joined the US National Team, which earned a silver medal in the world championship. Eberly then joined the Blackhawks, but was sidelined by injury and decided instead to finish college.
“When I was back in the area I started doing more coaching with youth hockey and running skill sessions,” he said.
He then had two sons, Danny and Doug, who kept him in the hockey world through their own play. Danny went on to win a state championship with his high school team, as did Doug, with Danny becoming a captain of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute team before joining the Rangers for a time. Doug was accepted into the Coast Guard Academy and is now among the top young rescue pilots for the Coast Guard out of Clearwater, Fla.
An all-star team Eberly worked with won three Canada Cups, with Eberly later conducting skills clinics and helping scout players for USA Hockey teams before settling down to business at Watson's.
While he might not be as involved in hockey as he once was, Eberly remains devoted to the Beanpot, a tournament he truly loves.
“I think it's the fact that it's got these four competitive schools that are what, a couple miles apart in Boston?” He said. “It's probably the biggest and longest tournament in the country.”
Plus, there are the exciting dynamics of hockey.
“Hockey is one of those things where if you watch the game and enjoy it you can tell that sometimes a team can have better players than another team, and some things can go wrong early in a game, a couple of fluke goals where the other team gets a spirit lift, and all of a sudden an underdog beats a favorite team,” said Eberly. “This year BC came in I think No. 2 in the nation, and came in last.”
This year's Beanpot winner, for the first time in 24 years, was Harvard University, with BU goalie Jake Oettinger earning the Eberly Award.
“He enjoyed being recognized, but these guys are very competitive,” Eberly said. “I noticed that a lot of years when I give the award to somebody that just lost, they're not too happy about the situation they're in. They're pretty gracious about it, but they're competitors.”
Goaltenders, Eberly said, can make or break a game.
“The goalies have a huge impact,” he said. “It's like coming up against a no-hitting pitcher. One of these young athletes can get hot, and be very confident, or come into the tournament and be playing well and just decide he's going to stand on his head for two nights, and he does it and his team wins by a goal or two, and beats a team that has a lot more talent on paper.”
The irony, perhaps, for Eberly regarding the award, is that he never had the opportunity to win one.
“I would have liked to win one,” he said.
Yet Eberly's legacy in the sport lives on. His wife Lynn said they have customers come in who once followed his career, and marvels at the Beanpot experience.
“I get to the Beanpot and see the men who have been in the sport all these years, and I see how tight they are,” Lynn said. “They looked at him like, 'That's Dan Eberly.' They're introducing their son, their kids, their grandchildren. There's a great respect for Dan in the hockey community. Some of the scouts, they remember him from when he was playing. This is something. I wish I had known him in those years. It's amazing.”
While Eberly enjoys the moments, those he really looks forward to are when he gets a chance to chat with a player or players in a youth program.
“When parents come in or grandparents come in and put two and two together, they'll be introducing me to their son or grandson who is playing, and that's what I get a kick out of because I can talk to them a little bit,” Eberly said. “They just light up. That's what's neat. This sport is such a wonderful exciting sport. It has lasting benefits throughout your life. It's just a great sport and I think it prepares you for a lot of the challenges in life, if you keep things in the right perspective.”