Northeastern has named Greg Cronin — former assistant coach at Maine and Colorado College and most recently the head coach of Bridgeport in the American Hockey League — the ninth head coach in the program’s history. Cronin will step down from his position in Bridgeport immediately.
“A couple of things jumped at us,” said Northeastern athletic director Dave O’Brien. “First, we were looking for someone who had grit and determination. Getting a chance to meet Greg Cronin, I can tell you after one lunch that he has grit and determination.
“He’s a kid from Colby [College] who made it all the way to the NHL. I’m not sure that a whole lot of Colby hockey players have been to the NHL before, and that’s a by-product of his grit and determination.”
Cronin’s connection to Northeastern is wide-ranging. Former Northeastern skaters Jim Madigan and Jay Heinbuck, both of whom were strong candidates for the position before pulling themselves out of the running, are scouts for the New York Islanders, Bridgeport’s parent team. Cronin also has a direct connection to the Huskies; his father Danny was a Northeastern captain in 1958-59.
With his parents and many other family members, including his father, watching in the wings, Cronin was emotional and excited.
“I’d like to acknowledge Bruce Crowder and his family,” Cronin said. “I’ve known him for 17 years, and he’s a very dear friend of mine and a quality person.
“It’s been an interesting journey. I have always looked over my shoulder over the last seven or eight years in pro hockey at the college hockey world: two spots in particular, one was Maine and the other is Northeastern. Maine is obviously because of the seven years I spent there and Northeastern because of the family connection with my father, my uncle, my cousin.”
O’Brien stressed the importance of recruiting, implying in the process what was lacking in this area.
“We wanted someone who could be an excellent recruiter,” O’Brien said. “We need somebody who could always look at the glass as half-full, and we’re confident that Greg does. He’s been at top level programs at Colorado College and Maine. He doesn’t follow the pack; he’s a leader. On the recruiting trail, he looks for the qualities and traits that he can develop as a coach.”
O’Brien also mentioned that a recruiter needs charisma, and he noted that he was fascinated by Cronin’s definition of the word. In an interview, Cronin defined it as the “ability to make others feel good about themselves.”
In enumerating other qualities that the university sought as a coach, O’Brien also mentioned that the program wanted someone who could develop the skill of their players and thought it would be “wonderful” to have an individual who had experience in the pros.
“For us to have somebody who has coached at the next level — to be able to indicate to the student-athletes what they’re looking for at the pro level — and maybe to design a path to get there and have the phone numbers in his Rolodex so that he can make those phone calls, I think that will be an attractive ingredient on the recruiting trail.”
O’Brien clearly viewed Cronin’s head coaching experience as a bonus, noting his time with the Under-19 team as well as with the Sound Tigers in the AHL.
“He was the best prepared coach I’ve ever interviewed in 14 years as a Division I athletic director,” O’Brien said.
Cronin spoke with pride about the league records his team set in Bridgeport and said that he was “captivated by Dave’s passion” when discussing the opportunity at Northeastern. Despite coaching his team through four games in five days on top of a busy travel schedule, Cronin worked at a “feverish pace” to gather information about Northeastern and give himself every opportunity to get the job. However, all of that preparation didn’t prepare him for his return to Northeastern’s refurbished campus.
“The first tour of the campus amazed me,” Cronin said. “I had been here probably 15 or 16 years ago with Maine. Northeastern really represented — for the lack of a better analogy — a concrete jungle.. The evolution of the campus is incredible; it really changed my perception of what Northeastern represents.”
Likewise, Cronin noted the university’s ascent into the top 120 schools in the country as well as its attractive location in the middle of Boston. Additionally, he is savoring the opportunity to work in education again.
“Professional hockey is managing egos,” Cronin said. “I call the American Hockey League the Marine Corps of coaching. It’s a really terrific league to coach in, but I just have such an opportunity at this critical point at Northeastern University to make a major impact with my own fingerprint.
“You don’t recruit the players in pro hockey, and you don’t have a lasting relationship with them. This is an opportunity to get into the true spirit of coaching: to touch somebody’s soul.”
Asked about the challenges of recruiting in a tough league with both high-performing public universities with low cost as well as private universities with excellent reputations and facilities, Cronin clearly relishes what faces him. Even though next year’s recruiting class is basically in place, Cronin disagreed with the notion that it could take a while for him to have an impact in that area.
“I don’t think it’s going to take a while with all due respect,” Cronin said. “If you’ve done your homework, you realize that there are challenges here going forward. I’ve thought about that a lot. You could have Scotty Bowman come in here, but if you don’t have talent at any school you’re not going about it the right way.
“You have to have a vision of what kind of student-athlete you’re going to recruit. … The biggest challenge is to find the athlete who has the same passion for Northeastern that I have, who wants to make an impact on college hockey.”
Cronin went on at length to discuss his role in helping to put Colorado College on the map as a college hockey power house and then mentioned the late Shawn Walsh as an inspiration.
“The one thing that really emanated from Shawn was the commitment to the vision that he had for the University of Maine, and he recruited everybody into that vision, whether it was the stickboy, the zamboni driver, the Director of Admission — you name it; he had everybody sold on that vision. Fortunately, a piece of Shawn is nestled in me.”
Cronin said he would be looking foremost for players with heart and courage. “I’m going to find players with those two assets.”
The Boston native acknowledged that it will be important to recruit assistant coaches who share his vision. Announcements on that front likely will be forthcoming in the weeks to come.
Cronin coached at Colby and Colorado College after playing, then came back to Maine to serve under Walsh. He was the interim head coach when Walsh was serving a one-year school-imposed suspension for violation of NCAA rules.
Cronin has also worked in the U.S. National program.
The Northeastern position had been vacant since the school decided not to renew the contract of nine-year head coach Crowder.
Adam Wodon contributed to this report.