Roll looks to find niche for Nazareth as program gets off the ground

Nazareth coach George Roll (Jamie Germano/Nazareth Athletics)
George Roll wasn't out of the game long after being let go by Clarkson (photo: Jamie Germano/Nazareth Athletics).

If the shoe — or, in this case, the skate — fits, wear it.

That basically sums up the reason why George Roll accepted an offer to become the head men’s hockey coach at Nazareth College — which plans to add the sport for the 2012-13 season.

“I felt so comfortable with the people there, including the president [Daan Braveman] and the [athletic director, Peter Bothner] that I felt there was a comfort level for me,” said Roll, who recently was dismissed after being the head coach at Clarkson for the last eight seasons. “People were up front and honest. For me, it was important to get into a situation like that. Plus, I felt they’ve had success at the Division III level in all sports.

“It’s an opportunity to build a program from the ground up and put my own mark on it. Everyone was so positive that I felt, for me, it was the right situation.”

“I feel comfortable that we’ll be able to compete. I expect we’ll find our niche but I don’t expect it to be a long process.”

— Nazareth coach
George Roll

Positive is an adjective that can be used when describing the role Braveman, Bothner and Nazareth head men’s basketball coach Kevin Broderick played in Roll’s decision.

“I’m really grateful to the school,” said Roll. “Sometimes when you go through a situation like I went through, schools can be leery about hiring somebody who’s been let go. I owe them for this opportunity to get back into something I love. That means a lot.

“President Braveman and Pete Bothner played a big role in my decision. And Kevin Broderick [a Nazareth alumnus] was the basketball coach at Oswego State [when Roll was the Lakers’ hockey coach] and now he’s at Nazareth. We became friends [at Oswego].

“Certainly, I leaned on him a lot for information regarding how he viewed the situation at Nazareth,” Roll said. “That’s one reason why I felt it was an attractive position to go after.”

The Golden Flyers hope to compete in the ECAC West along with Elmira, Hobart, Manhattanville, Neumann and Utica. But western New York isn’t exactly bereft of colleges that play hockey with the likes of Rochester Institute of Technology, Niagara and Canisius in Division I plus Brockport, Geneseo, Hobart and Buffalo State in Division III.

Thus, a case could be made that Nazareth might find it difficult to carve out a niche for this neophyte program.

“I strongly disagree with it,” Roll said of that argument. “We’re going to find a niche. Having been in the business for 20-plus years, I’ve established relationships with junior coaches and prep school coaches. They feel comfortable sending players to programs I’ve coached.

“There are a lot of players out there, especially players in areas where you normally wouldn’t expect them to be. More and more players are coming out of areas that aren’t typical hockey areas.

Nazareth coach George Roll (Jamie Germano/Nazareth Athletics)

“There are always going to be plusses and minuses,” Roll continued. “I feel comfortable that we’ll be able to compete. I expect we’ll find our niche but I don’t expect it to be a long process.”

How long that process might be very well could depend on how successful Roll is in recruiting. After all, his situation isn’t akin to Major League Baseball adding an expansion team with an accompanying expansion draft.

“I think there are a number of things that go into selling a program,” Roll said. “The academic program [at Nazareth] is very strong. Part of the selling also is my track record as a head coach and an assistant coach.

“Nazareth also is in a great location. From a hockey standpoint, going from Buffalo through Syracuse, it’s a very good corridor for recruiting.”

Roll’s track record certainly is worth noting.

He was an assistant coach at Clarkson from 1988 to 1996, during which the Golden Knights compiled a 176-82-26 record.

Then, Roll moved south to Oswego State where, in seven seasons, his record was 119-74-16. During the 2002-03 season, the Lakers were 25-7-1, captured the SUNYAC championship and lost in the finals of the NCAA Division III tournament. For his accomplishments, Roll was voted the Division III coach of the year.

Roll then turned around and headed back north to Clarkson, where he revived the program.

Under Roll, the Golden Knights won the 2007 ECAC tournament championship, the 2008 ECAC regular-season title and, besides winning over 20 games in each of those seasons, also earned a berth in the NCAA tournament.

“For me, having been at it for 20-plus years, the No. 1 priority for me is to bring in character players,” Roll said of the type of player he prefers to recruit. “When you have good character guys it doesn’t always ensure success. But it helps.

“Teams that seem to go the farthest are the ones that have good moral structure. Obviously, you need talent so I want to recruit guys that compete at a high level and have good character. And, of course, we went to play up-tempo and get up and down the rink. That’s one thing I don’t want to change.”

How successful Roll is in meeting the challenge of recruiting players for a brand new team could go a long way toward determining the success of the program, both on a short-term and long-term basis.

“It’s always hard when you’re starting a program to bring in 25 or 26 new players,” he said. “That’s always going to be a challenge. As you improve, how do you handle those situations? That’s going to be a challenge for anybody who starts a program.

“There always are going to be obstacles. It comes down to working hard, getting out on the road and recruiting. I just felt Nazareth is a place that attracts quality student-athletes. If you find players that are willing to work within a system you can have success within the first three or four years.”