The Recorder – Keeping Score: Greenfield’s Heather Ahearn wants the Cup

Good morning!
Chances are that Greenfield’s Heather Ahearn was the only Franklin County native to cheer after the Panthers beat the Bruins three weeks ago, and tonight she’ll be in Charlotte rooting for them to beat the Hurricanes.

In December, Ahearn was named the assistant to Panthers GM Bill Zito on the same night the Bruins blew out the Panthers, 7-3, at TD Garden. How times have changed.

“I’m a jack of all trades, from distributing fan mail to helping run a tournament and everything in between,” she said in a telephone interview. 

Ahearn grew up on Ferrante Avenue, attended Greenfield public schools and graduated from UMass in 1996. Local teams being her passion, she majored in sport management. “It started when I was a kid turning on Channel 38 for the Bruins and Red Sox — People asked me my name and I’d say ‘Carlton Fisk.’”    

On half-day Wednesdays at the Four Corners School she’d go to the Collins-Moylan Arena and pay a quarter for public skating. “At UMass a girl started the first women’s club hockey team. I played and still play hockey.”

After college she worked for the women’s national hockey team in Colorado Springs, but eventually decided to cash in on her MBA from Babson College.

It was the next logical step for a banker’s daughter. She oversaw billion-dollar projects, mapped out investment strategies and founded her own company. 

“I learned how to make sea salt and sold it to restaurants,” she said. “I was in corporate America for a long time and it was coming to a point where I was going to be a lifer. I knew I wanted a change and started to look around.”

Ahearn, 48, is outgoing, charismatic and smart. “My natural ability is to help people and anticipate need. I like to think I can see things coming.”

She applied online for the Panthers job, met Zito in Boston and didn’t have to wait for a reply. “I need you to start now,” he said.

“I didn’t use any hockey connections, it was just meant to be,” she said.    

The 58-year-old Zito was raised in Milwaukee and was a Brewers bat boy when they went to the World Series in 1982. Three years ago the Panthers lured him away the Columbus Blue Jackets and he took over a club that had made the playoffs three times in 19 years.

“Bill is a unique individual. His hires from the top down are nice, caring people which you don’t find in a company very often. There are very few where you roll your eyes and say ‘Oh god, I have to work with this person?’”    

“We have a few from Massachusetts,” she added. “Paul Fenton calls me ‘413.’ We kinda run the joint.”

A Springfield native, Fenton is Zito’s senior advisor, and his son PJ is a Panthers scout. Assistant GMs Paul Krepelka and Brent Peterson are from Arlington and Northboro, respectively.

Zito hired coach Paul Maurice and traded high scoring forward Jonathan Huberdeau and two others to Calgary for Matthew Tkachuk.

A Scottsdale native, Tkachuk went from playing in seven degree weather in Calgary to the Florida tropics and liked it so much he signed an eight-year deal last summer.

“It’s a destination franchise. Everyone loves living here,” said Ahearn. “Not that we’re seeing a lot of sun.”

Whalers fans remember Maurice from when he coached the Whalers their last three years in Hartford. “He’s thoughtful. Funny. Honest. Insightful. He’s been around too long to get cranked up,” said Ahearn. “It’s an absolutely different team than I saw in January. You could tell when it was the right 20 guys.”

The Panthers are one series away from every NHL player’s dream, and Ahearn is thrilled to be a part of it.

“This job is a nice bookend to my career, it really has come full circle. I don’t even know what day it is anymore, but I’m having an absolute ball.”


To Bet or Not to Bet: Only eight horses are entered in today’s Preakness Stakes from Pimlico Race Course in Maryland (13th race; 7:01 p.m. post time).

Kentucky Derby winner Mage is the 8-5 morning line favorite and is the only steed that raced in the Run for the Roses. The 5-2 second choice was First Mission, trained by Brad Cox and ridden by Luis Saez, but it was scratched on Friday.

Bob Baffert’s speedball National Treasure is 4-1 with J.R. Velazquez in the irons, and Blazing Sevens is 6-1 under Irad Ortiz. The rest of the field includes Chase the Chaos (50-1), Coffeewithchris (20-1), Red Route One (10-1) and Perform (15-1).

“Mage on paper looks like candy in here,” said Greenfield handicapper John Dobrydnio who predicted in this space two weeks ago that either Mage or Confidence Game would win the Run for the Roses. 

“The question is how much did the Derby take out of him? I’m not betting the race because we took the money last time at 15-1 but I’ll tell you something, Bob Baffert cranked this horse National Treasure his last workout and then the cute bastard added blinkers and he’s got the rail.

“We don’t need this. We are professional handicappers.

Let’s wait for the full field at the Belmont.”

SQUIBBERS: NFL analyst Greg Cosell to podcaster Ross Tucker: “The guy on the Patriots I’m fascinated to see is Kayshon Boutte because he finished his freshman year at LSU with a 300-yard performance and he looked like the next guy, but for whatever reason it didn’t work out.” … The Boston Sports Journal’s Greg Bedard picks the Pats to finish 8-9. Bedard doesn’t try to curry favor with Patriots fans, he simply tells it like he sees it. … Only 2,064 watched the A’s lose to the Diamondbacks the night they announced they’d found a stadium site in Las Vegas. … Now that the Red Sox have made their little run and are settling back into mediocrity, ticket prices on the secondary market are more affordable. Two grandstand seats in Section 27 on Tuesday cost $18 apiece plus fees on Stubhub. … If you insist on emptying your wallet, general admission to the David Ortiz autograph session at this weekend’s Fenway Card Show is $299. … Sirius-XM’s Chris Russo in the wake of the Sixers collapse and the Doc Rivers firing: “Anybody who loves James Harden needs their head examined. He’s great in one game and then he can’t throw the ball in the ocean off a boat. Harden is a coach killer.” … Homeplate umpire Mike Muchinski, after he ejected Yankees hitting coach Matt Blake from last Saturday’s game against the Rays: “All you’re doing is b*******! That’s all you’re doing! I’m just telling ya, you’re always b******* that’s all it is. Get outta here! Just get outta here!” … FYI the Sugarloaf Frostee’s open and that means summer’s here. … “Hasta la Vista!” cried ESPN’s Ernesto Jerez after Texas slugger Ezequiel Duran blasted a 426-foot home run into the seats. … The NY Post’s Larry Brooks on the B’s early exit: “It does not matter what the numbers tell you. Montreal-Boston in 1971 is the most shocking first round exit in history.” … Snoop Dog wants to buy the Ottawa Senators, what’s the world coming to? … Former Twins slugger Torii Hunter said of his favorite pitch: “A hanging breaking ball is a gift from God. Don’t miss your blessing.”

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for decades in the Pioneer Valley. He can be reached at

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