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Catching Up With The Gaffneys, A Rhode Island Hockey Dynasty

Walk into any rink in the state and there’s a good chance there’s a Gaffney there - maybe two or three.

Mike Gaffney (Center) with sons Charlie and Joe – Photo courtesy of Gaffney family
EDITOR’S NOTE: One of family patriarch Mike Gaffney’s sons and one of his grandsons are each named Charlie. For clarity’s sake, their names are followed by either (MS) – Mike’s son, or (MGS) – Mike’s Grandson.

Cam Gaffney sat on the floor in the East Greenwich living room, behind him flames crackled in the fireplace as snow fell outside. Cam stared up at his grandfather, who was sitting to his right in an armchair, telling stories of his 40-year high school hockey coaching career in Rhode Island.

Cam didn’t roll his eyes, pretend to listen or glance at his phone as grandfather, Mike Gaffney, took a trip down memory lane. He and his older brother Charlie (MGS) paid close attention as their 72-year-old grandfather-rattled off names, games, scorers and players as if it were yesterday and not decades ago.

Mike Gaffney spent four decades behind the bench in Rhode Island rinks. He coached at four different schools in Rhode Island. Perhaps, the most memorable was Toll Gate where he had seen potential in a public school team and had lobbied to become the first public school team to play in the state’s top hockey division – alongside powerhouses Mount St. Charles, Bishop Hendricken and La Salle.

His teams played in sold-out rinks and won state championships. He coached All-Staters, an Olympic Gold Medalist and his sons – all six of them.

Charlie (MGS) Gaffney – Photo courtesy of Gaffney family

“You knew you had to play hard every single shift.  You had to go hard, not just because the coach said so, because the teams you were playing went hard. There was an unwritten rule when you got to the rink or practice or a game you had to be ready to play.” said Charlie (MS). “The most intense hockey I ever played was high school hockey. Every shift you went 100 miles an hour. Intensity was just incredible.”

Charlie (MS) and his twin brother Joe played for their dad at Toll Gate and were two-time All-Staters. They never called him dad on the ice. Mike never referred to the twins as his sons.

Two of the top players in the state, Charlie (MS) and Joe both went on to outstanding collegiate careers at Bowdoin. Charlie (MS) is their All-Time Leading Scorer, was an All American, led the ECAC in scoring three straight years and the Division II Player of the Year his senior year.  Charlie (MS) and Joe next played professionally in the ECAC for three years before pursuing careers off the ice.

But, they never hung up their skates.

There are now 21 Gaffney grandchildren. Walk in any rink in the state and there’s a good chance there’s a Gaffney on the bench or on the ice – maybe two or three.

Charlie Gaffney (MS – Center) with his sons Charlie (MGS – Left) and Cam (Right) – Photo courtesy of Gaffney family

“I remember when I was little I would walk in the rink and people would say, ‘there’s a Gaffney. There’s a Gaffney. A lot of people knew us,” said Cam.

Charlie (MGS) said his dad never pressured him to play hockey but once they got to the rink, they knew they had to work hard.

“I never wanted to go to practice , but dad pushed us to go,” said Charlie (MGS). “Now I am so glad he did. Those practices mean a lot now.”

Charlie (MGS) and Cam are now a big part of the East Greenwich hockey team that will head into this weekend’s playoffs as the No. 2 seed in the state’s top division.

Charlie (MGS) is a senior defenseman and Cam is the junior forward and the state’s leading scorer. A year ago, in their first year playing in the state’s top division, their father became the East Greenwich assistant coach. Charlie (MS), 50, has taken what he learned from his father and is now leading his own sons.

But just like his father, Charlie (MS) doesn’t like to talk about himself. He prefers to talk about his brother Joe, whose son is playing at Malden Catholic in Massachusetts and young brother John, who started the program at Prout, was once named Rhode Island Coach of the Year and has now brought the Crusaders up to compete in the state’s top division.

Mike Gaffney (Center) with sons Charlie and Joe – Photo courtesy of Gaffney family

Charlie (MS) joined the EG program last year, assisting longtime Avenger coach Don Dunwoody.

“On the bench, Charlie (MS) is a mirror of his father. I remember Mike Gaffney as a task master, a very demanding, strict coach who got the most out of his players,” said Dunwoody. “Charlie (MS) is very demanding. That’s who he is. He demands high expectations from everybody on the team.”

Charlie (MS) was soon joined on the bench by former Brown and Hendricken standout Kris Omicioli, who is now EG’s associate head coach. Just like his father had done at Toll Gate decades before, Charlie (MS) had pushed hard for the Avengers to move up to the state’s top division.

“Kris and I knew if we could get these guys to Division I, we could show them how fun it is. We’re going to play on Friday nights, we’re going to play Hendricken, La Salle and Mount. We’re going to put people in the stands. It’s all about the experience,” said Charlie (MS).

In just their second year in Division I, the Avengers have proven they belong in the state’s top division. They finished the regular season 15-4-1 which includes the school’s first win over Hendricken in 40 years.

“The kids and their parents bought in. We have a good system,” said Charlie (MS). “We’re a traditional public high school team. We have a handful of upperclassmen who come to work every day at the rink and they buy in, so the underclassmen buy in, so we have this positive loop so everyone is going hard. “We have a good culture, good work ethic ..combine that talent, good coaching and a supportive athletic director (Casie Rhodes),” said Charlie (MS).

Cam Gaffney – Photo courtesy of Gaffney family

“It’s a lot more work now,” said Charlie (MGS). “Every practice is a workout. You can close your eyes and hear the difference. The sounds of us going up and down shredding the ice. The starts and stops. It’s so much harder now. It’s so worth it.”

Charlie (MGS) and Cam are proven leaders and serve as captains. Charlie (MGS), a senior, is a defenseman. His younger brother Cam is a junior and the state’s lead scorer. Both are as competitive as their grandfather, father and uncles who came before them.

“I grew up playing against Charlie (MS) and Joe. They matched high skill with such a high level of competitiveness. Every time you played them you knew you were in for a battle,” said Omicioli. “Charlie (MGS) and Cam carry on the tradition of high skill/high compete level. When your high talent players are the hardest workers, coaching is easy. Cam and Charlie (MGS) continue the Gaffney legacy and honor the name on the back of their jerseys.”


This postseason is likely to be the last for Charlie (MGS) and Cam. Charlie (MGS) is heading to Tulane next year while Cam is considering prep school.

“High School is fleeting. It’s four quick years,” said Charlie (MS).  You might as well go as hard as you can and do it the right way so you won’t have any regrets. Key is to have those experiences … It’s the way we talk about the game against Mount at Brown with Sara (DeCosta) or us when we won the Providence Journal tournament as the eighth seed all these years later. Those are the things you remember. It’s about making memories. I think these kids will always remember the locker room after the Hendricken game. For most high school kids, this is it. This is the most competitive you will ever play. You might as well go as hard as you can and have as much fun as you can.”

Charlie (MGS) is hoping to go out with a win.

“I’m extremely competitive. I want to go hard every single time and of course win,” Charlie (MGS).

The Gaffney tradition skates on.