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Privateers roll with changes

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Even with the ever-changing world of the Federal Hockey League, Kris McCarthy of the Watertown Privateers certainly didn’t see the number of changes coming when he started the season as team captain.

In what has been a tumultous campaign for the Privateers both on and off the ice, McCarthy is trying to make the best of the situation after he was named interim general manager in the wake of the firing of head coach and general manager Brad Zangs two weeks ago.

But McCarthy, who was quickly thrust into the role, has embraced the extra duties and the opportunity to help manage a professional hockey team.

“This is really exciting for me,” said McCarthy, who recently graduated from SUNY Potsdam with a degree in business administration. “This is exactly what I went to school for and is what I wanted to get into — something to do with sports management.”

In addition, Brent Clarke, who came out of retirement to join the Privateers as a player in January, was named the team’s interim coach by McCarthy after Zangs was officially let go on Feb. 20.

“Ownership wasn’t happy with the job Brad was doing off the ice as far as sponsorships and doing promotions and those kind of things,” McCarthy said. “We were also in the midst of a nine-game losing streak ... and that combined with the off-ice stuff, ownership decided to make a change.”

McCarthy and Clarke are settling into their new duties amid the recent upheaval within the Privateers organization. The franchise, a charter member of the FHL owned by Nicole Kirnan, continues to struggle financially.

League commissioner Don Kirnan now partially owns the team that the Kirnans are actively attempting to sell. They are hopeful they’ll sell the franchise to a potential local ownership group.

“This community is really behind this team,” McCarthy said. “We just don’t think there was as much of a positive image of the team that we should have projected. I think Watertown is a really tight-knit community and I think there are a lot of people who want to help us out.”

It’s against this backdrop that McCarthy and Clarke are hoping to provide stability as the team closes out the final month of the regular season and approaches the playoffs in early April.

“We’re trying to do what we can before the season is over,” McCarthy said. “We’re looking forward to next year — we want this team to be the pearl of the league — and we believe it can be.”

McCarthy, a defenseman, is still playing for Watertown, although he has relinquished his title as captain to Britt Ouelette.

“I’ve been putting in 12 hour days because I really want to succeed with this,” McCarthy said. “I want to show ownership and the rest of this league that I can do a good job as well as help this team. Anything I can do to put a positive image on this team is important to me.”

Among McCarthy’s new duties as general manager is seeking out “more opportunities for sponsorships through networking,” he said. “ ... It’s good for bringing different groups of people into the building. So we’re just trying to utilize that the best we can and make this team what it can be.”

The 27-year-old McCarthy and Clarke, 25, are likely one of the youngest general manager and coaching tandems in the sport

“I’m just really excited about this opportunity.” Clarke said.

A native of Ottawa, McCarthy is in his fourth season as a player in the FHL. After he won a league championship with the Privateers’ then-rival Akwesasne, he played in parts of the past three seasons with the Privateers.

McCarthy has appeared in 42 games with Watertown this season, totaling seven points, including six assists, as well as 97 penalty minutes.

A product of Bolton, Ontario, Clarke has played six seasons at the pro level in the International Hockey League, the East Coast Hockey League, the Central Hockey League and most recently the Southern Professional Hockey League last year. He’s skated in 20 games with Watertown and registered 16 points, including seven goals.

Clarke doesn’t consider his title as a player/coach, although he has played in three games since he’s taken over as interim coach.

“So far the morale from the dressing room to being on the bus to practice — and games has just skyrocketed,” Clarke said. “Everyone’s just pumped to be at the rink now.”

Heading into tonight, the third-place Privateers had 11 games remaining in their regular season, with five home games, including a 5:05 p.m. matinee on Sunday against Dayton.

Watertown also has a neutral-site game against Danville, to be played on March 22 in Connelsville, Pa.

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