The Bears struggled mightily in what was to be Roger Grillo’s 12th and final year behind the bench. A shocking first-round sweep at fifth-place Harvard did little to ease the pain of a three-win regular season, a campaign in which the team scored fewer than two goals a game and featured only one player with more than six (Matt Vokes, who graduated).
Bruno was outshot by more than a 2-to-1 margin, and in fact registered a shot advantage in only two games all year.
Vokes and Ryan Garbutt left with 57 career goals and 122 points between them, but while they led the pack for the woeful Bears, it’s not a statistical loss that would be missed much on better teams. That is to say that practically any scoring that Brown can find this year will already compensate for what the talented but unsupported duo took with their diplomas.
The hiring of new head coach Brendan Whittet is the big story right now, but he’s not starting from scratch. Sophomore rearguard Jeff Buvinow finished second on the team in scoring last season with three goals and 14 assists, and senior co-captain Devin Timberlake looks to rebound from an injury-shortened year in which he still notched four goals and four helpers in 10 games.
The defensive-minded Whittet hopes to build a more supportive team around besieged netminders Dan Rosen and Mike Clemente, who split last season’s minutes.
One of the first things Whittet did, of course, was to hire new assistant coaches in Jerry Keefe and Mark White.
“It wasn’t an indication of the job that the previous staff had done; it was more along the lines of, I wanted a fresh start,” Whittet said. “I wanted the guys to hear different voices, and I wanted to create a new energy.”
On the topic of his newly acquired charges, Whittet sees no reason to force relative strangers into prescribed roles.
“I wanted to come in with the premise that it’s a clean start for all these guys,” he said. “I’ve been very, very impressed with the individuals that we have in the program, in terms of their dedication and enthusiasm and positive attitudes. The senior leadership is tremendous. Jordan Pietrus, Devin Timberlake and Aaron Volpatti are my tri-captains, and just talking with them … about how to change the culture … and create sustained success, they’ve been spot-on with their observations and their thoughts. They are elite-level leaders, which is what you need as a coach going into a new situation. You need those guys to support what you’re trying to do.
“With the seniors, I said, ‘You guys are going to look back on this moment in 20 years from now — on this moment and this season — and you’re going to be really proud of what you guys have been able to do in terms of creating a culture and changing the environment, creating a winning atmosphere. I don’t want you to think that you’re just creating a foundation for the future’ … I want them to experience success.”
The freshly minted head coach played his undergrad hockey at Brown, and got to taste a fair amount of success playing under current Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet. He later served as a longtime assistant on Gaudet’s Big Green staff, from whence he was plucked by Brown’s administration.
“As an alum, as someone who experienced success here as a student-athlete, as someone who believes in the mission of the school, I love the place,” Whittet said. “Brown is an absolutely wonderful place with wonderful people. The environment is such that I feel very much supported. The administration is going to allow me and afford me to sustain success. I feel very confident about the people involved with this program, and again, I love the place.
“I played on teams that were in the NCAA tournament, I played on teams that won Ivy League championships, I played on teams that were in championship games for the ECAC tournament playing in front of packed houses at Meehan. Is that something that I’ll be able to translate effectively to my team? Of course it is, I experienced it. I know how special this place is. I know how special Providence is as a city, and I know that Rhode Island is a hockey state. It is through-and-through a hockey state, and people will come out to support this program, from alums to the community to youth groups. I want our guys out there showing their faces … doing good things. A consequence will be people in our building. The school is about excellence, and it’s got to be about excellence in our hockey program too. They go hand-in-hand.”
The energetic Whittet preaches loyalty and passion, and expects his teams to be proud of their program.
“I want guys that will go through the wall for their teammates, and guys that will go through the wall to represent Brown University. When we play this year, what I want people to say is, ‘Look how hard that team plays. Look at how much energy that team plays with. Look how even-keel that team is, no matter if they’re up or down in a game.’ I know there are going to be growing pains and I know it’s not going to be something that happens overnight, but what I want is a team that day-in and day-out is striving to get better, striving to improve, and by the end of the year I believe that we will be a team to be reckoned with. I really do. We’re going to be relentless, in-your-face, aggressive, hard-working, disciplined, organized, professional-looking program.
“We are going to walk into buildings, and it’s not going to be the Brown team of old, I can tell you that.”
When building his team, he has specific types of players in mind, and a game plan that won’t surprise those who have tracked his career as a blue-line guru.
“I want guys that can think the game,” Whittet said. “I want guys who have some creativity and offensive flair to their game. I want guys that can play the game at a fast pace and execute at a fast pace. That being said, I am a big proponent of defensive responsibility. I like the up-tempo game. … I think it’s exciting, I think it’s fun to watch, but I will never [sacrifice defense]. It’s by and large how you win championships. You have to have a defensive scheme and a defensive team that can execute defensively and move the puck out of the zone efficiently. Some of that will be addressed through teaching this year, some of it will be addressed through recruiting.”
One thing’s for sure: this team will not be dull.
“I want people to understand that when they come to a game, they’re going to see a team that is absolutely driven to be successful at every aspect,” Whittet said. “They’re going to see a team that is going to be about excellence, they’re going to see a team that is absolutely fierce in its competitive nature. You know what? It’s going to be an exciting place to watch a game. When I think about Brown hockey … I think about a team that has a work ethic that is second to none … and is a team in every respect.
“No longer are we going to be pushovers. No longer is Brown going to walk into a rink and have the other team assume that it’s going to be an easy win. Our goal is to win championships. Our goal is not to be mediocre. Along the way, I want people to understand that while we strive to win championships, it’s going to be a great atmosphere to come to Meehan and see us play. I’m a proud alum, I love the place and I love the program. I love the guys that are involved in the program, and I know we’re going to get it done.”