Last year’s Spencer Penrose Award winner, Joe Marsh from St. Lawrence, is among the 12 finalists for this year’s award, sponsored annually by the American Hockey Coaches Association (AHCA). Five of the 12 finalists are participating in this year’s NCAA tournament.
The following are this year’s candidates:
Craig Barnett, Findlay: Competing in a Division I league in its first year of reclassification from NCAA Division II, Barnett led his club to a fifth-place CHA regular-season finish with a record of 10-15-2. One of Barnett’s biggest challenges was simply filling his schedule after the MAAC conference canceled games just weeks before the season began because of the school’s Division II classification.
Rick Gotkin, Mercyhurst: Gotkin led the Lakers to both the regular- and postseason championship in the MAAC, earning Mercyhurst the first automatic NCAA bid in the conference’s three-year history. Doing so, Gotkin became the first coach to ever lead the same school to the NCAA Division I, II and III tournaments. Gotkin was named the MAAC Coach of the Year, leading the Lakers to a 22-11-2 record.
Joe Marsh, St. Lawrence: For the second straight year, St. Lawrence captured the ECAC tournament championship, earning the Saints a bid in the NCAA tournament. Though falling, 3-2, in double overtime in the opening round of the tournament to Colorado College, the Saints still earned their third straight 20-win season. Marsh led his club to the NCAA Frozen Four last season before losing to runner-up Boston College in the semifinals and is the only two-time winner of the award on this year’s list of finalists.
Paul Pooley, Providence: Hockey East Coach of the Year Paul Pooley brought the Friars from a fifth-place finish one season ago to a tie for second this year with Maine. After a thrilling triple-overtime victory in the final game of its quarterfinal series against Boston University, the Friars overtook Maine in the Hockey East semifinals to earn a bid to the NCAA tournament. Though falling to Wisconsin in the opening game of the West Regional, Pooley’s club made its first NCAA appearance since the 1995-96 season.
Dean Blais, North Dakota: With the pressure of defending last year’s National Championship riding on its shoulder, the North Dakota Fighting Sioux and head coach Dean Blais proved in the regular season that they were among the top clubs in the tough WCHA conference. For the fourth time in five years, the Sioux captured the WCHA regular-season title, earning the second seed in the NCAA East Regional.
Mike Kemp, Nebraska-Omaha: In existence for only their third year, the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks, under the leadership of Kemp, have proved that they want to be a permanent fixture near the top of the CCHA. After making an appearance as a Cinderella team in last year’s CCHA championship, the Mavericks finished fourth in the CCHA this season before falling to Michigan in the league semifinals. With the program since its inception, Kemp led his club to a 24-15-3 record this season.
Mark Mazzoleni, Harvard: In only his second season at Harvard, Mazzoleni led the Crimson to a 16-15-3 record and a third-place finish in the ECAC. Though suffering through a tough midseason slump culminating around the historic Beanpot tournament, Mazzoleni was able to turn the season around in the final weeks of the season, earning Harvard home ice for the first round of the ECAC playoffs.
Doug Ross, Alabama-Huntsville: In his 19th season at UAH, Ross led his recently-reclassified Division I team to a 21-12-1 record and the CHA regular-season title. A 1976 graduate of Bowling Green, Ross picked up his 350th career win at Huntsville this season and is the all-time winningest coach in school history.
Enrico Blasi, Miami: CCHA Coach of the Year Enrico Blasi led the Miami RedHawks from a ninth-place finish a season ago to a tie for second place this year. In his second season with Miami, Blasi proved his teams mettle, finishing the season with a 20-16-2 record, finishing just short of the club’s third NCAA appearance.
Don Lucia, Minnesota: Minnesota’s second-year coach Don Lucia was very successful in accomplishing his goal this season of returning the Gophers to
the national spotlight. After a three-year hiatus from the NCAA championship, the Gophers returned to the dance by virtue of a third-place finish in the WCHA standings. Though Minnesota fell to Maine in a heartbreaking overtime loss in the East Regional, the Gophers still finished the season with a 27-13-2 record.
Mark Morris, Clarkson: ECAC coaching stalwart Mark Morris proved in the final week of the regular season that his club belonged at the top of the ECAC. A final-weekend sweep allowed the Golden Knights to leapfrog over defending regular-season champ St. Lawrence. Though a disappointing loss to Vermont in the quarterfinals ended Morris’ season abruptly, the Golden Knights still finished a very respectable 21-11-2.
Tim Whitehead, UMass-Lowell: After starting the season with a dismal 1-6 record in league play, the UMass-Lowell River Hawks looked destined for their second straight season without postseason play. But behind the leadership of Whitehead, the River Hawks turned things around in the second half of the year, ending the regular season one of the hottest teams in the country. In the post-season, Whitehead led Lowell to a 2-1 best-of-three upset of nationally-ranked New Hampshire on enemy ice, earning Lowell its first trip to the Hockey East final four since 1998.