On coaching and candidates as vacancies continue to open …
First of all, best wishes and congrats to Seth Appert. His rookie campaign behind the bench will come in Troy, N.Y., as he takes over for Dan Fridgen at Rensselaer.
Two thoughts here: first, be smart and keep Frank Bretti on board. You’ll need someone to handle recruiting who knows the east. Very few guys know the fertile recruiting grounds like Bretti. New York State produces a ton of prospects, as do the preps and the eastern Junior Hockey League. Bretti knows these areas well, and is a former head coach at Iona when that school had a Division I program.
Secondly, don’t reinvent the wheel. Being yourself as a young coach will be vital. Your enthusiasm will bring about a renewed interest in the program. However, I have seen way too many young coaches in their first kick at the can as a head coach try to do too much. One step at a time.
Keith Allain takes over at Yale for Tim Taylor. While Yale has been less than successful lately, the way Taylor was dismissed still leaves a lot to be determined in terms of Yale’s image. However, Allain is a bright young mind with a ton of experience. Changing the culture is a good thing, and will be for Yale. Honoring Taylor’s accomplishments at Yale would be a great idea.
Let it be said right here that the notion that goalies do not make good head coaches is a load of baloney. That was a popular sentiment way back when Orval Tessier was named coach of the Chicago Blackhawks. Not anymore.
Appert was a goalie (Ferris State). Allain was a goalie (Yale). P.K. O’Handley, who guided the Waterloo Black Hawks to a USHL title two years ago, was a goalie. The late Roger Neilson was a goalie. Jacques Martin, who achieved a lot of coaching success with the Ottawa Senators, was a goalie. Jeff Jackson, currently at Notre Dame, was a goalie who won pair of titles at Lake Superior State as their head coach. Scott Owens of Colorado College was a goalie.
Now, to NHL vacancies and college coaches. To be fair, if any college coach deserves to be tapped as an NHL coach, two that come to mind are Red Berenson and Jack Parker. Parker has twice been offered the Bruins’ job, and twice flirted with taking it. Berenson has coached in the league, and was a Jack Adams winner in 1980-81 with the Blues.
Since both are too smart, and too entrenched in their patriarchal roles at Michigan and Boston University, others are certain to get a look, or should. Topping that list would be Mike Eaves, who has professional experience with the AHL’s Hershey Bears and the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins. Eaves’ background as an NHL player, his pedigree as a coach, and his no-nonsense style would be coveted by teams needing to tighten the ship. Los Angeles comes to mind.
However, the team I see as a perfect fit for Eaves is the New Jersey Devils.
Former Providence coach Lou Lamoriello, who took over for Larry Robinson on an extended interim basis in New Jersey, wants someone who follows the mold of the organization. Lamoriello rarely makes a mistake with the man he hires to guide his prized assets. Eaves’ style — demanding, patient, methodical and organized — would be in step with the Devils’ team-first philosophy.
Here are a few others who, in the right spot, would be successful in the NHL. The list starts with Rick Comley of Michigan State. No-nonsense, bright, articulate, and successful. He has rebuilt the Spartans into a team Michigan State faithful can identify with: a winner.
Mike Schafer of Cornell. A little nuts, but in the way successful coaches are: detail-oriented, hard-nosed, driven, and well-schooled in the defensive aspect of the game. His teams win not necessarily on talent but work ethic. Coaches need to be supremely confident in who they are and what they can do, and Schafer is in that category.
George Gwozdecky has shown innovation and a quiet confidence in guiding Denver to a pair of national titles. One can argue that Denver was not the most talented team in the country, but Gwozdecky, whose coaching roots are linked to two of the best in the business — Ron Mason and “Badger Bob” Johnson — has survived adversity, injuries, and a rookie goalie to win national titles. Gwozdecky is innovative, and that counts for a lot in the new NHL.
Two others are going to be talked about but might not be ready for an NHL head coaching spot. Harvard’s Ted Donato and Wisconsin women’s coach Mark Johnson both are former NHLers with long and distinguished careers.
Donato is still learning the game from a coaching perspective, and Johnson has made a flawless transition from men’s assistant to women’s head coach, where he led the Badgers to a national title in convincing fashion this season. These are names that will be bandied about down the road.
This past season I asked an NCAA head coach why more college coaches don’t go on to the NHL. I was expecting to hear what I figured was the number-one reason: why would someone coaching in college hockey, the best job in hockey, want to leave the security, the 40-game schedule, the weekend games (as opposed to back-to-back in midweek and then weekends)?
I was expecting to hear that college hockey was the better job. What I was told was that “the NHL doesn’t go after us for jobs.”
They might this spring.