Change at the Top
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
This offseason, college hockey saw eight head coaching changes, a significant amount in any season, but particularly significant by how high-profile some of the changes were.
Included were a number of changes that many fans have been clamoring for. Some were ugly, some were smooth. They included big names and small. And when the dust settled, the landscape of college hockey was changed.
Notre Dame: The most significant change came at Notre Dame, where Dave Poulin had led his alma mater for a decade, and took the Irish to their first NCAA appearance in 2004. But the team's fortunes dropped off dramatically last season, and many people thought Poulin, a former long-time NHL centerman, had reached his peak with the Irish. With the handwriting on the wall, Poulin stepped aside. If that wasn't significant enough, his replacement was Jeff Jackson, the two-time national championship coach with Lake Superior State from 1989-96. Jackson left to begin the U.S. National Development Program, then later coached in major junior, and then was an assistant in the NHL with the New York Islanders. Jackson had been looking to get back into college hockey, if the situation was right, but it never seemed to be. Finally, with the NHL in lockout mode, Jackson got the golden opportunity, with a school he believes is a sleeping giant. Notre Dame still has building issues to overcome, but if that gets done, does anyone doubt Jeff Jackson's ability to lead the Irish to new heights?
Providence: Paul Pooley was embattled as Providence's head coach. It was another situation of a coach getting to a certain level with a team for a number of years, and then struggling to get beyond it, only to have a poor 2004-05. With that, Pooley stepped aside, and, interestingly enough, decided to take the job as Jeff Jackson's assistant at Notre Dame. This opened the door for former Friar Tim Army to land his first head coaching job in college hockey, after a successful run in the pro ranks. Army was an assistant in Washington of the NHL under another former Friar, Ron Wilson, then spent the last three seasons as head coach of the Capitals' AHL affiliate, the Portland Pirates. Army set up the winning goal in the game that gave Providence the 1985 Hockey East tournament championship. Providence, in the recent past, has lost out on blue chippers to the bigger schools in the area, like New Hampshire, BC and BU, and resorted to a defensive style that fans didn't like. It remains to be seen whether any of that can really change, or if Providence will have to accept their spot in the pecking order.
Northeastern: Staying in Hockey East, here's another case of a coach spending about a decade in one spot, and never being able to get over a certain hump. Bruce Crowder came to Northeastern with great fanfare, after getting a NCAA berth while head coach at Mass.-Lowell. He never matched that success with the Huskies. So off he went, only to be replaced by Greg Cronin, a fiery competitor who was on the staff at Maine under Shawn Walsh, then went to the national program, before becoming a coach in the New York Islanders' system. Last year, Cronin was the head coach at Bridgeport, the Islanders' AHL affiliate. Cronin got out of amateur hockey during a tumultuous time in his life, but has always looked to get back in. Maine was one spot he targeted, but Northeastern was the other, since his father was a captain of the Huskies in the late '50s. Again, it remains to be seen whether anyone can turn Northeastern around, but Cronin certainly has the energy for it.
Merrimack: It's a story filled with intrigue, all of which hasn't necessarily been fleshed out yet. But it did seem last year that Chris Serino had lost his team, winning just one game in league play. Although he had the strong support of school president Richard Santagati, Serino decided to get out, accepting a job at Malden Catholic Prep. Despite the tumult within the walls at Merrimack, the Warriors couldn't have picked a better young coach — Mark Dennehy. Dennehy has long been tabbed around here as someone to watch out for with tremendous head coaching potential. He was an assistant under Don Cahoon at both Princeton and Massachusetts — in those schools' most successful seasons — and was a head coach for one year at Fairfield. The question for Dennehy is whether he'll be given the resources to compete.
St. Cloud State: The most surprising, only for its timing, was the resignation of Craig Dahl, who, other than Herb Brooks' one-year stint to start the program, was the only coach the Huskies ever knew. Dahl led SCSU to great heights near the "turn of the century," but lost some NCAA heartbreakers and never made the Frozen Four. Nevertheless, Dahl was responsible for bringing in some great talent, and was by far one of the great gentlemen in college hockey. Fans grew restless, however, in recent years, by the team's decline and waning amount of blue chippers. Dahl was set to come back for another season, until he made an announcement to step aside in August. Dahl hired 44-year old Bob Motzko as an assistant in May, in what seemed to be a move to groom his successor, but still the August announcement was a surprise. Though still not technically offical, SCSU will have behind the bench, indeed. All he's done recently was win two national championships on the staff of Don Lucia at Minnesota. Prior to that, he head coached in the USHL, and was an assistant at Miami during two NCAA seasons. The question befalling Motzko will be the same as some of his Eastern counterparts — can St. Cloud get back to the top, or is the recruiting prowess of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Denver too much to overcome at this point?
Alaska-Anchorage: When Motzko left Minnesota for St. Cloud State, it opened a significant spot at a significant program. Filling that spot was John Hill, who led the Seawolves to an emotional series win in the WCHA tournament two years ago, its first ever, but decided he couldn't pass up this opportunity. That opened the door for Dave Shyiak to land his first head coaching job, after years as an assistant at Northern Michigan. He certainly deserves a chance, though UAA has its standard challenges.
Lake Superior State and Canisius: The two ugly situations, one moreso than the other. Canisius' Brian Cavanaugh, the only coach the program had known, was fired in the middle of last season following repeated allegations of run-ins with players. The inmates began running the asylum there (Cavanaugh would say that athletic director Tim Dillon let them), and helped force him out. There were questions about just who in the Canisius administration made the decision, but nevertheless, it wasn't pretty. Then, after Cavanaugh left, two assistants were put in charge, and what followed were some more ugly incidents involving players, including the trashing of a North Dakota hotel room during a road trip. That led to the resignation of Dillon. Coming in to clean up this mess is Dave Smith, a respected hockey man who helped build a solid program at Mercyhurst under Rick Gotkin. ... Meanwhile, at Lake Superior, Frank Anzalone was fired after his second stint there. The one-time national championship coach in 1988 for the Lakers, was never able to get LSSU out of the second division of the CCHA, and his temperamental personality did not win friends. He then sued Lake Superior over wrongful termination. Amid this, Jim Roque was hired to fill the spot. Roque played four years at LSSU (1983-87) and spent seven years there as an assistant coach in two stints, while also spending six years at Clarkson. He is a deserving choice.
Wisconsin: Last but not least, it should be mentioned that Badgers head coach Mike Eaves fired assistant Troy Ward, apparently concerned that Ward was investigating other possible jobs. Ward was taken aback by the decision, but Eaves has run a tight ship since the day he started. With the team on the verge of big things — NCAA things — Eaves decided he didn't want to take any chances with distractions. Some assistant jobs are prominent, and this one of them, so it's worth keeping an eye on.