Q&A: Chris Bergeron, Bowling Green
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Chris Bergeron was an assistant coach at Miami for 10 seasons, helping lead his alma mater to national prominence. Now, he's been hired as the new head coach at Bowling Green, and will get to lead a program for the first time. He has brought on Miami graduate Barry Schutte and BGSU graduate Ty Eigner as assistant coaches.
Meanwhile, the $4 million highly-anticipated renovations to 45-year old BG Ice Arena have begun. This was part of a process that literally saved the program. The renovation is supposed to be complete in September. It includes the replacement of the arena's ice-making equipment, new lighting, and creating four new locker rooms.
Bergeron commented on this and more.
CHN: You're still going back and forth from Oxford?
Bergeron: Every week I play it by ear. In this day and age, I can do a lot at home. I just like being there (in Bowling Green). There's a lot of people I want to meet. The more time I can spend there, the easier it is to me. It's about 2 hours and 45 minutes back (to Oxford). There's been so many details to attend to without assistant coaches on hand. I'm a detail guy so I don't want to miss any detail. I'm probably putting a little uneeded stress in the situation.
CHN: So how are you finding things as you settle in?
Bergeron: First and foremost, I want people to know that Bowling Green hockey is here to stay. I want to tell as many people who will listen. It's important that those questions about the program go away. I've asked everyone on campus what's going on in the long term, and the long term prognosis is very good.
CHN: Your new assistants do not have as much coaching experience as some others at this level.
Bergeron: What these guys have, in my estimation, is something you can't teach in terms of presence and confidence and life experience. What they don't know in terms of college recruiting is something that they can learn. They're both 35 (years old) and above. Both have that hunger to get into college hockey and be part of Bowling Green's resurgence.
CHN: Have you had a chance to assess the team?
Bergeron: The freshman class of '10 is a pretty good group. It's going to be an underclassmen team. We're going to be young, with that comes some challenges.
CHN: How much of what you bring to Bowling Green is yourself vs. what you have learned at Miami?
Bergeron: It's a good combination. At Miami we were a little less old school and a little more hands on coaching. I'll never be acccused of over-coaching. I want to let young guys figure it out, which is what the pros do. Even when I was playing, there was less coaching and more life lesson stuff. That's where I think maybe I have some value, to help these kids get through the experience at Bowling Green. Obviously hockey is important, but I think there's more to it than that. That's something we were able to create at Miami. It's about improving as students and people and preparing for life after college. There are things you have to be pro-active about as a coach, and some things you can let kids figure out on their own. So the key is to recruit a certain kind of person who wants to achieve, wants to have success.
Rico has done an unbelievable job at Miami. Hopefully I was a small part of that. It was the culture, not, "What was the forecheck?" These kids wanted to be great at what they did every day. Are there days they fall short? Absolutely. Those are the days you put your arm around them and say, "That's not good enough, and also not good enough for you." That took some time.
CHN: Perhaps the most impressive thing about what you guys did at Miami was getting players to stay there. And I don't know if that's what you did or said, or a factor of the type of player you brought in.
Bergeron: It was just us being us. We didn't try to over-sell it. There's a professional team on the other side presenting its argument. We lost (Alec) Martinez, (Jeff) Zatkoff, but that's about it. (Andy Greene) was a throwback kid. He didn't care what anybody said. He was probably a year or two before the mad dash of kids leaving. But with Greene, it wasn't even a thought. I don't remember sitting down with him like we did with (Ryan) Jones, (Nathan) Davis, Martinez, Zatkoff — it was just us being us. I hope to bring that same mentality with us if we get presented with a Bowling Green player getting courted by the pros. If it's a place he hates or he hates school, that's fine. But if it's a place he loves, he should stay.
CHN: Obviously recruiting was done for this season, but how are things with recruiting in general?
Bergeron: Anyone that had verbally committeed or signed a National Letter of Intent, their spot at Bowling Green was secure in my mind. If you had committed to play for a certain staff and wanted to walk away, I will honor that decision. With that being said, I'd love to have each and every one of (them). All 26 guys have said they're coming. So basically recruiting efforts are focused on 2011-12 at the earliest. If there's a difference maker, we'd add him, but we're going out rushing, making mistakes, trying to improve without really knowing people. Because I can't stress enough that recrujitng a certain type of kid is what our focus is going to be, because a certain kid is going to become a certain hockey player. Because of the character and his expectations for himself.
CHN: What can you offer to kids at Bowling Green compared to other places?
Bergeron: I think back with what old Goggin (Arena at Miami) was like and how we could recruit to that, and I believe Bowling Green Ice Arena has some amenities that we didn't have at that time. We have opportunity and we have stablity, and those two things are huge recruiting tools for our kids. Geography-wise we're right in the heart of where we want to be in the footprint — Illinois, Michigan, Ohio. Everything is in place. Weill have to go head to head with some great programs and we know that, but ultimately not every culture is best for each kid, and not everyone has the same culture. There's more to the recruiting now.
CHN: The best news for schools like Bowling Green is that the amount of good kids coming out of Ohio has really increased over the last 10 years.
Bergeron: Right now at Bowling Green, we have one player from Ohio. So I'm not saying anything other than, we're going to be a presence in our footprint. We won't spread ourselves so thin recruiting wise that we're great nowhere and just OK. I feel very strongly about that. So we will focus on our footprint, where we can go into someone's home. I'm not going to say we wouldn't go anywhere we could fight for a kid, but just in our strong areas, we should stick with that and be great in those areas. Really be a strong presence.
CHN: How do you want your team to play?
Bergeron: We want to be a relentless team. You can put relentless in any situation, whether with or without the puck. We want to be a hard team to play against. You know you're going to have to fight for every puck and for ice. The other team knows they need to put their hard helmets on and go to work. And if poeple don't want to buy into that, they won't be a part of it. That will be the overall shell.
CHN: What will you remember most about your time at Miami?
Bergeron: I look back at very fond memories. It's something that I'll remember forever. It's part of who I am. But I do feel the timing was very good (to leave), to get a chance at a program like Bowling Green. Hopefully we'll have some of the same successes from Miami. Specifically, I look back at beating Michigan for the first time, and beating Michigan this year in the first game that actually meant something (in the NCAA regional final). But that might not be fair, because it's still so fresh. ... Ii think the first time it seemed the plan was working was a pretty cool feeling that we had our kids in place — the first time making the national tournament. It was all on different scales. We won the league for the first time in the old building; that was a really satisfying feeling, just watching this plan, the first time you put it on paper and seeing it executed. It's somethign I'm very proud of. We were able to go through that and execute the plan and see it work, which is all about recruiting great kids. There's too many to give you one.
CHN: With Jeff Blashill now at Western Michigan, there's all of these Miami guys out there now.
Bergeron: It's somethign we're very proud of. (Current Miami assistant) Brent Brekke is going to be a great head coach when he gets his opportunity. It is a pretty cool feeling for both Jeff and I. We're close friends. We went through a lot together grinding it out recruiting wise in the six years we were together. It's pretty neat now. And now Mark Osiecki is at OSU — we've gone head to head recruiting wise with Wisconsin. I like Mark a lot.
CHN: There's a lot of competition out there now. Will Miami be OK?
Bergeron: I don't feel bad for Rico for one second. That team on paper is still pretty damn good. I do believe him when he says it's a bittersweet to lose Jeff and then me. We've been through a lot as people. ... We've been through, not just winning and losing, but family stuff. We've been through a lot. But he'll be just fine. It'll be different at first — different for me to go to my house in Oxford and realize it's not my home anymore. But he'll be fine.