by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Tim Army was an offensive-minded player at Providence, scoring 27 goals during his senior year as the Friars won the inaugural Hockey East tournament championship.
But in his years of coaching — which started two years after graduation — in college and the NHL, he has seen, like everyone else, the dwindling goal-scoring output in the sport. Better goaltenders, better equipment, bigger players, a tolerance for obstruction — we all know the factors.
But as hockey has tried to change its mindset, it coincided perfectly with the opportunity for Army to return to his alma mater.
"It's an accumulation of all the years, and the type of hockey you want to play," said Army of his philosophy. "It's also the direction of hockey right now, so it goes hand in hand. I was an offensive player."
He did have teams that allowed around 2 goals per game at the American Hockey League level, so it's not like he can't coach defense.
"When you coach at the professional level, you don't have tremendous control over your personnel," said Army. "You have input, but generally your lineup is what your lineup is. And you've got to find a way to be successful and to win every night. ... If there was a difference in personnel, you could balance that by playing good team defense ...
"One of the things that really intrigued me about Providence College was that you have complete control over (personnel). Playing an offensive minded game and attacking game is what we want.
The adjustment for everyone seems to be going as smoothly as anyone can expect. All the players, of course, were recruited by the previous regime, and Army himself had been out of college hockey since he was an assistant at Providence under Mike McShane through the early '90s.
Army had the luxury of playing for two prominent coaches at Providence, starting with the legendary Lou Lamoriello, now the esteemed general manager of the New Jersey Devils, and finishing with Steve Stirling, now the coach of the New York Islanders.
He has good relationships with both men, but the biggest influence on him as a coach is Ron Wilson, another former Providence skater who Army coached with in both Anaheim and Washington.
"(He influenced) a lot of my approaches, the way I look at the game," said Army. "And the day-to-day activities, the way I look at the team."
Army said he still speaks frequently with Wilson, the man who led the United States to its second-biggest international hockey win ever, the 1996 World Cup.
"I still think it's the greatest American win," said Army. "What Herb (Brooks) did (winning the 1980 Olympic gold medal) speaks for itself. At the time, we beat the best team in the world. But in '96, they had to play all the best countries, and had to win 2-of-3 and win the last two games in Canada. From a purist hockey standpoint, it was a more difficult task."
Perhaps in relative terms, the task of rebuilding Providence hockey is just as difficult in the current landscape. But despite being away from the college game for a while, when the opening came up at his alma mater, coming back to the college game was something that Army didn't hesitate to pursue.
Army's ties to his school go much deeper than just his playing and coaching days. A Providence-area native, Army's grandfather was a trainer for the old Providence Reds of the AHL. Then his father helped re-start the varsity program at Providence College and was named its first captain. His mother and father were married at the school, Army himself married another Providence athlete, and both of his children have been christened there.
"I've always kept up on it and a lot of my friends are still in the college game," Army said. "There's certain things I'm still getting used to, but certain things I had a pretty good idea of what I needed to do and coaching is coaching.
"Now, you go to a tournament and watch 5-6 games in a row. In pro hockey, you're pre-scouting and watching one game. (I'm adjusting to) deciphering what I was looking for, because it does sort of blend if you're not used to it. Right now I feel I have a much better foundation. The other thing is getting used to making decisions on kids 2-3 years in advance. That wasn't heard of back then."
Just as Ron Wilson did by surrounding himself with top-notched help, Army has done the same, bringing Stan Moore from Colgate to be his assistant. Moore is a two-time Coach of the Year in the ECAC. The pair coached together at Providence 15 years ago.
"I always knew if I happened to come back here, that would be the first phone call," said Army. "He hasn't bounced around, he believes in the program he's representing. He loved the school. I'm very lucky to have an experienced hockey person who's an excellent coach and interacts with players very well, is a great recruiter, a great eye for talent."
Recruiting is the big challenge these days, especially with players committing at younger and younger ages. That's something Army is getting adjusted to, but that is another reason why Moore is so helpful.
For now, he'll try to win with the players he has, which is OK with Tim Army; he refuses to make any excuses or wait around for some five-year plan.
"I told them in July, there was 21 of them on campus, they came down to see me, and I talked to the whole bunch," said Army. "They were coming down in pockets of 10. I told them I'm not going to wait for one recruiting class or two, and that this is my team. This was my philosophy and how I was going to go about it. And I need to establish that identity to our program."
(Also See: Providence - Team of the Week)