Mark Mazzoleni was officially introduced as the new head coach of the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers today, ending a five-year association with Harvard.
In so doing, Mazzoleni said that he had no plans to return to Division I coaching in the future.
“My wife and I, when we looked at this, we listed all the pros and cons,” said Mazzoleni. “We knew that if I come here [to Green Bay], I’m not going back [to college].
“I’ve changed a lot over the last six years. This is about a lot more than just winning hockey games. This was the right move for us and a permanent move.”
Mazzoleni, 48, compiled an 82-72-13 record at Harvard in five seasons. His teams have gone to the NCAA tournament the last three seasons, and won two ECAC tournament championships.
But when the Green Bay job opened up — after Mark Osiecki left to take the assistant coaching position at his alma mater, Wisconsin — the hometown ties were too much for Mazzoleni to pass up. Mazzoleni and his wife, Karen, are both from Green Bay. His 91-year old father, her two parents, and his two brothers all live in Green Bay. And Mazzoleni played junior hockey there and is lifelong friends with Gamblers team president Rob Nicholson.
“This is where I wanted to be. I knew,” he said.
Mazzoleni received a multi-year deal in the range of $100,000 annually.
“This is a big loss for Harvard,” said school athletic director Bob Scalise. “Looking back, one can see that [Mazzoleni] has really done an outstanding job with our hockey program, and I am really proud of what he has done here. His educational approach to coaching, hard work, and knowledge of the game has returned Harvard Hockey to prominence both in the ECAC and on the national scene. We think the world of him here, but we understand that this is a great opportunity for him, not only professionally, but for his family as well.”
Though Mazzoleni did not say that the overhanging tension between himself and players, parents and alumni was a factor in his decision to leave Harvard, he did acknowledge some of the tensions existed. Noting the Crimson’s 12 NHL Draft picks on last year’s team, Mazzoleni said that it caused problems, among three parents in particular, who believed their sons deserved more playing time.
“It’s nothing against Harvard,” Mazzoleni said. “Those people have been good to me and my family. They totally understood why I made this decision.
“If people really understand what junior hockey is all about … I can get my total hockey fix here.”
Back in Cambridge, Noah Welch, next year’s captain, offered up nothing by positive things to say about Mazzoleni.
“We wanted to have him back here next year,” said Welch. “We understand the opportunity that was presented to him, however, and we understand why he’s made this move. In the last few years, we were 30 seconds away from three straight ECAC titles, and have made three NCAA appearances. As a player, what you ask for is a chance to compete for championships. While it would have been great to have a chance for at least one more with him, we respect his decision and we all wish him well.”
Green Bay has a camp that starts Thursday, meaning Mazzoleni will be jumping right into his new job.
Meanwhile, Harvard will be jumping right into looking for a new coach. There should be no shortage of highly-qualified candidates.
A young Mazzoleni began his coaching career by leading Wisconsin-Stevens Point to three consecutive Division III national championships (1989-91). From there, Mazzoleni was an assistant at Minnesota before getting his first Division I head coaching job, at Miami. He replaced George Gwozdecky and was there for five seasons, earning an NCAA bid in 1996-97. After the 1998-99 season, Mazzoleni earned the job at Harvard after a number of others turned it down.
At Harvard, Mazzoleni’s best season was in 2002-03, when Harvard went 22-10-2. As a result, the Crimson were ranked No. 6 in the nation coming into the season, but finished a disappointing sixth in the ECAC before rallying to win the league tournament title.
“I’m extremely proud of what we have been able to accomplish in my five years at Harvard, returning a proud program to the national level, where yearly we are competing for league championships and for NCAA bids,” Mazzoleni said in a separate statement. “As I depart, I know that there is leadership and quality individuals who will help the program continue on to the next step. I do want to sincerely thank my team, assistants, and support staff for their loyalty and friendship, as well as thank everyone who has supported both myself and our program over the last few years.”
Despite the remarkable stability in college hockey’s coaching ranks in recent years, the ECAC had three coaching changes last season — four if Colgate is included — and will have had two more this year (three counting Colgate).
This will be Harvard’s third coaching change since 1990. That’s after a 40-year run of just two coaches — Cooney Weiland and Bill Cleary.