Bellemore’s assistance casts long shadow at Providence

If Bob Deraney had not been open to a balance of power in his first year as the Providence College women’s hockey head coach, he might have brought on a disastrously unpopular, imbalanced budget.

Fast-forward 13 years, and Deraney is fast-tracking to a host of program coaching records, and he credits every stabilizing and tenure-strengthening turn to his inherited assistant, Bob Bellemore.

If Schneider Arena were Wayne Enterprises, Bellemore would be Alfred Pennyworth. He is under the radar, but never underappreciated in his various positions as men’s assistant coach under Lou Lamoriello, arena director, and eventually women’s assistant coach, which he undertook in 1993.

“Bob was always looking to be the voice of reason,” said Deraney, the last of the Bruce Waynes to the newly-retired Bellemore’s Alfred.

“He taught me how to navigate through the Providence College community and in switching over from men’s hockey to women’s hockey. I think the transition was a lot easier because of Bob’s insight.”

Deraney filled the Friars’ vacancy in the summer of 1999, months after Jackie Barto quit at midseason to return to her native Ohio. At the time, the PC athletic program in general was writhing in financial hardship.

To combat his new team’s lightened pockets, Deraney originally sought to cut back on his players’ meal money during road trips. In his words, it was “because I thought there was a better way to do it.”

Enter Bellemore, whose multifaceted position of the six preceding years saw him working with John Marchetti, Barto, and interim replacement Tom Sheehan.

Recalled Deraney, “He came in and told me, ‘Bob, that’s wrong. Those kids deserve that money. We shouldn’t be cutting corners. The people we need to take care of most are the players.’

“He won out, just like he did in every other argument, and I decided to go in the direction Bob wanted to go in and give the girls additional money, which was appropriate.

“From that moment on, the first question I ask myself is, ‘Are we doing the right thing for the girls?’ I owe that to him and his ability to always say the right thing at the right time. I think he counteracted me. I’m all business, and he knows when to lighten up the moment. I think I have to learn to be able to do that myself, which is going to be a real challenge for me.”

Equally challenging for all members of the Friars hockey family will be seeing Bellemore around the campus ice house in no significant capacity other than as a game-night TV analyst for Cox Sports.

As of this spring, Bellemore has called it a coaching career, effectively ending an active connection to his alma mater that predates Schneider Arena by more than a decade. He backstopped the Providence men’s team to its first conference title and first Frozen Four appearance in 1964, returned for his first coaching job from 1972 to 1986, and followed that immediately with one year as the arena director.

In 1987, Bellemore followed Lamoriello to New Jersey, where he spent four seasons as the Devils’ goaltending instructor. There has otherwise been no interruption to his life in the Ocean State.

Craving a career in education, Bellemore returned to PC in 1991 en route to a master’s degree. While on campus, he was approached by Marchetti, a former player of his in the ’70s and the incumbent women’s head coach. His expertise was requested in the effort to tutor the goaltenders.

“So I did it,” Bellemore said. “I volunteered for two or three years before they changed the practice hours and it became pretty consistent. The guys practiced from two to four, and the women practiced from four to six. It became much easier to get there after school.

“It worked out pretty well, because I was able to do two things I really enjoyed: working with young people and working with goaltenders. I had the type of experience they could use, and fortunately I happened to be in the neighborhood so I could do it on a part-time basis.”

As Bellemore juggled his jobs at South Kingston High School and Schneider Arena, the latter eventually blossomed to entail working with the Friars goalies, as well as extensive help with recruiting.

Under Deraney, the Friars have routinely refrained from practices and other team functions on Mondays, but he noted that Bellemore was still a seven-day skater, crossing state boundaries to stay busy.

“Bob gave us full-time hours for part-time pay, and on his off-day, he would go to Connecticut College and work with the goalies there,” Deraney said. “That just shows how much he loved college hockey and how much he loved helping people. We’d be working six days a week, and on that seventh day he would volunteer his time to work with another program that wasn’t able to hire a goalie coach.”

Bellemore, who will continue to volunteer with USA Hockey and to umpire high school baseball games, does not shy away from acknowledging the copious pleasure he has reaped from his work as an academic and athletic educator. He has overseen the bulk of the PC women’s landmark moments, including five ECAC titles, three Hockey East pennants, and sending nine alumni and/or active student-athletes to the Olympics.

Genevieve Lacasse, a graduating senior whose record-breaking days in the program end concomitantly with Bellemore’s, hopes to be at least one final additive to the coach’s credits.

“I want to make him proud and show the type of goaltending that he teaches,” she said.

In addition to PC’s three most-historically decorated stoppers in Sara DeCosta, Jana Bugden, and Lacasse, he made a point of underlining some other golden gems that started as straw.

One, Gina Martinello, was originally tending the cage for the Providence field hockey team and had a modicum of skating ability. Yet between 1991 and 1994, she put in 35 appearances at Schneider, including 21 as a senior during an ECAC championship campaign.

A decade later, Amy Thomas entered her senior season on the heels of back-to-back years in a third-string role behind Bugden and Amy Quinlan. However, with Quinlan having graduated and Bugden sustaining a season-ending injury, Thomas more than doubled her games-played total from the previous three seasons. Her year culminated with a 20-10-5 record, a 2005 WHEA title, and starting the Friars’ only NCAA tournament game to date.

“That was pretty rewarding to work with two people who we didn’t expect to play very much,” Bellemore reflected. “Having worked with the great ones was easy, but having the two who worked from scratch and to win a championship with them was pretty rewarding.”

Bellemore was rewarded in another form earlier this spring when he was named the second recipient of the American Hockey Coaches Association’s women’s assistant coach of the year. In addition, he was inducted into the Rhode Island Interscholastic League Hall of Fame.

With that, he skates out on top, a fitting finish in the eyes of his colleagues.

“Without question, the hockey world was a lot better with Bob Bellemore in it,” said Deraney. “And even though he’s retiring, I hope he will continue to be an icon in association with the sport of ice hockey throughout the country. He is truly one of the best that’s ever come to the game.”