“Tag, you’re it,” Ed Gosek said to George Roll. “Now it’s your turn.”
The last time Clarkson coach George Roll and Oswego coach Ed Gosek made it to the NCAA playoffs was in 2003 when they led Oswego to the Division III national championship final, losing to Norwich, 2-1. At the time, Roll was the head coach for Oswego, and Gosek was the assistant coach at his alma mater. Soon after that, both coaches got new jobs, and it took them four years to get back to the promised land.
During that run, rumors swirled that Roll was about to take the job at Clarkson, where he was an assistant coach for eight years before heading to Oswego. When the Division III playoffs were over, Roll did indeed return to the North Country. Oswego then promoted Gosek to the head coaching job.
When Roll took over at Clarkson, it was a program in turmoil after longtime coach Mark Morris was let go. The Golden Knights struggled in his first three years, going 18-18-5, 13-23-3, and 18-17-3, respectively, though in his first year, Clarkson did get hot in the ECACHL playoffs, losing in the championship game. Every year the Golden Knights finished below .500 in the conference.
This year, however, Clarkson is back on top, a familiar position for this storied program. They finished second in the ECACHL, currently have a 25-8-5 record, won the conference championship, and are back in the NCAA playoffs with a number-one seed in the East Region.
“We’re excited,” Roll said. “It’s been quite some time. Certainly, when we took over the program the past four years, it has been our goal to get back to becoming one of the premier hockey programs in the nation.”
Meanwhile, Gosek was picking up where Roll left off. The Lakers compiled a record of 78-25-11, finished first the last three years, but stumbled in the SUNYAC playoffs, never winning the championship. This year, Oswego got an at-large bid and returned to the NCAA playoffs. They made the best of it, running the table and winning the school’s first national championship in any sport.
“I don’t know if it’s sunk in yet,” Gosek said. “Personally, I’m just happy to bring it back to our school, our alums, our community, all the coaches before me who have worked so hard in the past. This is a hockey town, and it means a lot to them.”
Roll’s seven years at Oswego saw him compile a record of 119-74-16, always have winning seasons, make two appearances in the NCAA playoffs, and win a SUNYAC championship. He also gained a close friend in Gosek.
“We have a pretty good relationship,” Roll said.
“We became good friends,” Gosek said. “Our wives are good friends. Our kids are the same age. It worked out real well. It was hard to see him leave.”
Gosek credits Roll for a lot of his success. “He could have cleaned house when he first came here and brought in his own people. But, he kept us assistants on, and I’m grateful for that. He’s the one that pushed me to get my master’s, so I would be in a position to get this job if he left.
“He’s been instrumental [to my success]. In the seven years we spent together, he taught me a lot. It wasn’t just the Xs and Os, but it was how to run the program and bringing in the right kids. Taking your time if you have to, making sure it’s right. I think that the biggest part he taught me is dealing with the kids.”
They talk constantly on the phone, comparing notes on each other’s teams’ success and pitfalls, and looking for advice from one another.
“I think he leans on me a little more,” Roll said of their relationship. “I think a lot of times he looks to bounce ideas off me. One thing I respect a lot about Eddie is that he would speak his mind.”
When the opportunity arises, they continue to work together.
“We go on the road recruiting together,” Gosek said. “I watch his kids for him, and he watches our kids for us. He’s been very supportive of me, and we talk all the time.”
Needless to say, they keep close tabs on how each other’s teams are doing.
“Very closely,” Roll said. “When we got back from Albany, went to a friend’s house to watch the [national championship] game. Really was excited for Eddie, especially with what he’s been through.”
“I’m sure he was as happy as I am when we finally won it,” Gosek said. “We’re going to bring the whole family down [to Rochester for the East Regional]. They have a good team, and they’re having a great run this year winning the ECAC championship. I know how hard they work.”
They both have to work hard because they both share something in common — coaching in towns whose self-esteem is partially measured by how well the local college hockey team does.
“I know he got it last year pretty good up there,” Gosek said. “And I got it this year with the [SUNYAC] playoffs. It’s a double edged sword. There’s pressure, but it’s good pressure.”
Has the Oswego experience helped Roll in preparing his team this year?
“Not just that experience, but the experience of having played [at Bowling Green] and coaching here as an assistant,” he said. “The biggest thing is for our team not to be satisfied in just being here. We don’t want to become complacent. We want to win the national championship.”
So, does his good friend rub it in that he got a national championship first?
“No, he hasn’t brought that up,” Roll laughed. “I’ve been waiting for it.”