PRINCETON, N.J. — If you didn’t know any better, you’d think that guy in the parka and baseball hat, schmoozing with the other parents, urging on his son, was just another hockey dad.
Look a little closer, and you see a five-time national championship coach.
Middlebury’s Bill Beaney decided to take a leave of absence from the program this season, in order to have time to watch his son Trevor play his senior season at Princeton. He is still expected to return behind the Middlebury bench next season. Meanwhile, interim coach Neil Sinclair has the Panthers ranked No. 2 in the latest USCHO Division III men’s poll heading into the NESCAC playoffs.
Some wondered whether there was any sort of ulterior motive behind Beaney’s unusual move. But sincerity pours out of a man who has been in hockey for three decades.
Still, with so much accomplished and behind him at Middlebury, you wonder if Beaney’s return might actually be to the Division I ranks. His name has been kicked around for years, especially for the most recent openings at Cornell and Harvard, only to have him pull himself out of the running late in the process.
Beaney ultimately concluded the timing wasn’t right to pursue those positions, but with Mike Gilligan assumed close to retirement at nearby Vermont, the timing may never be better.
USCHO: It might be unprecedented to take a one-year leave of absence like you did. Did you struggle with it or was it an easy decision?
Bill Beaney: It was really an easy decision. It really came about five years ago talking with people at our college about me staying at Middlebury and the quality of life at a Division III school like a Middlebury College. And one of the things I wanted to have happen was the opportunity to watch my children play sports. My daughter is a Middlebury graduate and she didn’t play sports, but when Trevor came to Princeton, I thought this would be a great opportunity.
Fortunately, we had a great assistant that’s been with me three years [Sinclair]. He’s a former player that knows our system and has done just a wonderful job. I said to him, “I want you to do well,” but they’ve done so well — they’re No. 2 in the country — I said, “Don’t be doing that well.”
USCHO: So your plan is still to get back to them next season?
BB: My plan is to go back. The college is fantastic with this stuff. I’ve done a little bit of fundraising for our new library, and I’m still the golf coach as well. And I figured I wouldn’t give the golf coaching job up because I might never get that back. But I’ll be back full time with the hockey and the golf next year.
USCHO: It’s intersting because a lot of other people in your situation wouldn’t take a leave of absence like that. And I’m not knocking the other guys; it’s a hard choice to make, to give up your profession for a year. [Wisconsin coach] Mike Eaves has two sons playing at Boston College and he’s not getting to see them play in college much at all and probably never will.
BB: You’re absolutely right. I guess as you go through life, and you’ve been at it as long as I have — almost 30 years — it’s about choices, and the choices you make along the way. I just felt with our family, I wanted to be a part of it, because it does go so fast. And my wife and I have been able to combine a number of things this four months … and I think she enjoys having me over for dinner a bit more often.
USCHO: How much do you have your nose in it still? You call a lot, or how much? I’m sure you’re probably talking about recruiting with them.
BB: I’m involved with recruiting, and I’m available for Coach Sinclair any time he wants to talk. The quality of the person has allowed me to be able to do this. So he’s an excellent coach on his own, but it’s like anything else, you like to be able to throw things around with hockey people. And so we do that from time to time. But it’s his show, and I’m hoping for him, this will lead to some opportunities for him down the line. And I think it will with the success the team has had.
USCHO: Do you purposefully, then, stay away and let him do his thing? Or have you gone to a game, and just say hi to the players? Things like that.
BB: I’ve seen three games, and I stay out of the way. I make myself available if he wants to talk, but for the most part, I’m doing my own things. And we started hitting some golf balls and getting ready for the spring trip and all that tough stuff that goes along with the job.
USCHO: How close was Trevor to just playing at Middlebury?
BB: His comment was, he’d go to Middlebury if they got a new coach [laughs]. So that was that, but it’s been a good place for Trevor, and where he’s at with his hockey. And obviously being able to go to Princeton University has been a thrill.
USCHO: The five national championships [1995-1999] are a tremendous accomplishment. People might think Middlebury is such a strong program, and a great school, and is able to attract such great players, and it’s easier for you to win. But just the luck involved even, just having things bounce the right way. You could be the greatest team in the world and still not win. Just ask the ’86 Edmonton Oilers. If not for one bad bounce, that team might have won five Cups in a row.
BB: The interesting thing about it, the first four years we won it were all one-goal games, and all four years the winning goal was scored by a freshman. And we had two excellent, excellent goaltenders … They were both All-Americans two different times in their career, and it started there, and the guys just believed in themselves and didn’t want to let it die.
It’s a hockey culture in Middlebury. People who care a little bit more about it, and want to do the little things that will let them be successful.
USCHO: Midd is a great institution, but there got to be that itch still to prove yourself at the D-I level.
BB: Now’s the time when I would consider it. With my children out of school, if a good opportunity came up and people would consider me, I certainly would take a look at it.
USCHO: Well, there may be an opening down the road pretty soon.
BB: Well, who knows. But nevertheless, it’s great to be involved in college hockey, and as we joke around from time to time, it sure beats having a real job.