Brendan Birnbaum (l) and Charlie McDonnell help manage NHS girls ice hockey/ Credit: Karen McDonnell

For this year’s Needham girls hockey team, two students were surprising difference-makers, both at the rink and in the social media world. Part of the surprise: Neither of them are in high school yet.

Brendan Birnbaum, 11, and Charlie McDonnell, 12, had older sisters playing for the team and their parents hit on the idea that the two boys could become the team managers. They initially had some jitters.

“At first, I didn’t really want to do it and I was like, ‘I have to go to every game and I’m not sure I want to do this,’” McDonnell said. 

The uncertainty melted away once he learned Birnbaum would join him. According to Ryan McDonnell, Charlie’s father, the coaches needed assistance, particularly with tracking game statistics. 

The elder McDonnell didn’t expect his son’s new gig would transform him into a local celebrity. Charlie and Brendan began offering postgame analysis through “Manager Corner” posts on the Needham Girls Hockey X (formerly known as Twitter) account and it caught people’s attention. The new account gained over 50 followers and the duo began receiving public recognition. 

Ryan McDonnell, who manages the X account, drew inspiration from his childhood watching “Hockey Night in Canada,” where former Bruins coach Don Cherry shared insights in a segment called “Coach’s Corner.”

“[The X posts] got a little bit of traction,” he said. “We were reposted and retweeted by the Massachusetts Hockey publications.”

Then, at a game at St. Sebastian’s High School, a fan recognized Charlie McDonnell as the Needham manager. “I had no idea who he was. People are talking to me about it and I’ve never seen them before, so it’s funny,” McDonnell said.

A similar incident occurred to Birnbaum while attending a game at Boston Sports Institute in Wellesley. “They just went up to me and said, ‘Oh, I know you, you’re the kid from the managers’ corner,’ ” Birnbaum said.

McDonnell and Birnbaum fulfill various roles as managers, from tracking game statistics to recording shots and penalties. The pair’s duties extend beyond numbers; they offer support to the team after tough losses. 

“When they lose it’s a little bit tougher because you don’t want to be too hard on them, so you just have to point out the good things and then just say a little bit of what they did wrong, but not too much,” McDonnell said. “Sometimes I put a spotlight on the people who did good and had a good game. I just say that they can’t think about this for too long, just to put it behind them.”

“Everyone loves having them as our managers,” said Erin McDonnell, Charlie’s sister and a junior on the team. Everyone talks about it all the time that it was so funny and awesome to have [them around].”

Though the Lady Rockets season has come to an end, the big question remains: Will the managers return next season?

Cameron Meyer and Brooke Alessi are Boston University journalism students

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