If success is measured by the respect one has earned from one’s peers, Don Brose is on top of the world right now.
The Minnesota State coach announced this week that, after 30 years at the helm of the Mavericks, he’s ready to step down. Reaction around college hockey was a mix of surprise, and the expectation that Brose was going to do this soon.
But college hockey leaders everywhere gushed praise and admiration for Brose, who has, in effect, taken the Mankato hockey program from rags to riches.
“You just hate to see guys with experience leave,” North Dakota coach Dean Blais said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s at Michigan State or it’s at Ferris State, you hate to see guys that have been around leave the profession. Especially a class guy like Don.”
But some of the most heartfelt tributes come from Denver coach George Gwozdecky and Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni. Each has a long list of games coached against Brose from their days in the Division III Northern Collegiate Hockey Association.
Before Mankato made the move to Division I, it was battling with teams like Gwozdecky’s at Wisconsin-River Falls and Mazzoleni’s at Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
“I heard rumors on Monday, so I tried to call him late in the day and he was already gone,” Gwozdecky said. “The message I left him was that I’m furious because I think, perhaps of all the other coaches in our league, he and I have probably competed against each other more times than anyone else. I called him kiddingly saying I want another shot at the title…. You can’t retire now.”
The character and discipline of the Mavericks was what struck Mazzoleni.
“Don’s teams always played hard, and they were always well-coached, but they were always very disciplined too,” Mazzoleni said. “I’m sure if you asked him about his games with Stevens Point, he’d say some of the toughest, most competitive games he ever coached in his career were against our team. Each of us won our share.
“There was mutual respect for the games, the way they were played. My respect for Don just continued to grow each year based on the fact that I recruited against him, and I saw how hard he worked. He was a very hard-working, diligent guy who always was there for Mankato State University.”
One of the reasons Brose has been showered with so much praise is his committment to hockey and his school. There were times when the school balked at Brose’s ideas for the team to advance to the Division I level when being a Division II team wasn’t practical anymore.
The fact that he stuck it out for 30 years is what won over some coaches.
“He was faced with some very difficult decisions, as their entire school was, when people started to branch off and either go I or III because of what happened with the Division II national championship,” Mazzoleni said. “They stuck to their guns and between him and Don Amiot, (Minnesota State’s athletic director), they believed that they could become a viable and a competitive program at the Division I level and they stuck their neck out on it. And I couldn’t be more happy for anyone than I am for those two guys.”
Gwozdecky has known Brose for quite a long time, so the timing of this announcement didn’t come as much of a surprise to him.
“You can’t be lucky and be successful,” Gwozdecky said. “You have to know what you’re doing. Even the timing of this announcement, I think, is part of his overall plan to make sure his team is ready to make that final push and give them that extra bit of motivation for that final push into the playoffs.”
But after his dedication, his longevity may take the next spot in people’s thoughts of Brose. Not many coaches can stay around 30 years in one place without moving on. It seems like for Brose, it was honestly a pleasure to be in Mankato so long.
“I’m 44,” Mazzoleni said. “I hope at age 60 if I’m still doing this, I can walk away and say, ‘I’m at the top of this thing, I want to enjoy my wife and my family.’
“He’s at the top right now — what a legacy to leave.”