After posting a total of just 15 wins in its first three seasons of Division
I hockey, Bentley College reached a mutual agreement with nine-year veteran head coach Jim McAdam to resign his position immediately.
McAdam was responsible for elevating the program to Division I after inheriting a program that had finished under .500 for nine seasons leading up to his arrival. His success included four appearances in the ECAC Division III playoffs and the ECAC Central title in the 1996-97 season, a year that saw the Falcons post an 18-9-1 record, their best under McAdam.
But Bentley’s elevation to Division I in 1999, and immediate membership in the fledgling MAAC, has been a struggle for McAdam. After winning seven league games in their first year, and qualifying for the MAAC playoffs, Bentley won only three games last season and four this year, finishing last both times.
So the Falcons athletic department has changed its focus and replaced McAdam with Ryan Soderquist, a graduate of the Bentley program, the school’s all-time leading scorer, and the club’s assistant coach for the last two seasons. At age 25, Soderquist becomes the youngest head coach in Division I college hockey.
Though a coaching change can be key to a program’s revitalization, Bentley will still face the issue of supporting its Division I program. Until this past season, Bentley did not offer scholarship money to incoming student-athletes, and even now provides well below the MAAC league scholarship cap of 11.
That, though, is something Soderquist sees changing.
“I wouldn’t have stuck around here if I didn’t feel the school was backing us 100 percent over the last year,” said Soderquist. “We’ve made some strides with athletic grant money and the admissions department working with us on student academic standards.”
— Ryan Soderquist, new head coach, Bentley
Soderquist noted that Bentley’s administration knew in advance that its financial commitment to the program could not be at a top level immediately. Rather, the school developed an extended plan to make the team competitive at the D-I level.
“We may not look like a Mercyhurst or a Canisius,” Soderquist said. “We took more of a four-year plan to get going. That’s hurt us here in the first few years of the MAAC, but we’ll have that plan to help us earn success in the upcoming years.”
Bentley’s program has been knocked during its three seasons in the league for its recruiting process, which has a small budget, and cannot fly coaches aronud the country to scout players. Thus the process had focused on the Massachusetts area, a hockey hotbed in itself, but an area where most top players would rather play at the competitive local schools like Boston College or Boston University.
“We’ve never recruited outside of a 50-mile radius, but if we’re going to be able to succeed, we’re going to have to be able to fly out and see these kids play,” said Soderquist, who as assistant coach was the recruiting coordinator for the program. “We have three players committed since December from the Michigan and Minnesota area.
“Last year I didn’t know so much about the college hockey world. This year I focused most of my recruiting into the North American Hockey League. After being able to acquire three guys early this year, I’m now working with three or four other guys from that league.”
Though currently the youngest Division I coach in the country, Soderquist won’t be the youngest ever to grace a D-I bench. Sacred Heart coach Shaun Hannah was only 23 years old when he began that job in 1997.
“I thought Coach McAdam would be here for one more year, maybe two more years,” said Soderquist, noting that he’s aspired to be able to take over the program upon McAdam’s departure. “That way, I figured, I could be an assistant for three years or four years, and I’d have chance to walk into the head coach’s role.”
With aspirations to become head coach solidly placed in his head, Soderquist has looked up to Hannah as the model for what he hopes to become.
“Similar to me, Shaun was two years out of college when he took over the position,” said Soderquist. “To see how much he’s had to put into his program, I look up to him and see I can put in the same efforts and do what he has done to try to mold our team into a team that can be successful here.”
As mentioned, the school has begun making more of a commitment to the hockey club, mostly from a financial standpoint, where help is most needed. The school exemplified this by making Soderquist the first full-time hockey coach in school history.
“I feel [a full-time coach] is a move in the right direction,” said Soderquist. “It shows the commitment that our school is making and is going to continue to make.
“As a coach you have to be there for the players. Sometimes they have questions or sometimes they want to come down and talk to you about the video. You have to be there for the one-on-one.”
As a player, Soderquist spent one year in the MAAC, Bentley’s inaugural Division I season of 1999-2000. That year, he led the team in scoring and ranked fourth in the league in total points. Midway through the season, Soderquist became the school’s all-time leading scorer.
Stepping into the head-coaching role from assistant translates to the need for Soderquist to choose an assistant coach. He said that, at this time, he has not considered any candidates but plans to fill the vacancy as soon as possible.