Prier Engagement: Princeton Finds New Guy
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
PRINCETON, N.J. Entering his new office in Princeton's Baker Rink, Bob Prier noticed a note. He looked and realized it was left by the previous occupant.
"Congratulations," Guy Gadowsky wrote. Prier looked further, behind a whiteboard, and found a gift left for him — a nice orange tie.
In seven years, Gadowsky built up a collection of them. Today, for him, they are obsolete, now that he's changed loyalties to the blue and white of Penn State. For Prier, they will come in very handy.
"That's known as 'blessed be the tie that binds,'" said Princeton athletic director Gary Walters.
"That's just the kind of guy he is," Prier said, no pun intended.
Prier comes to Princeton at a time when the program is healthier than its ever been, having reached the NCAAs twice in Gadowsky's seven-year tenure and won an ECAC championship. Princeton is also in good position to maintain it, as one of the Ivy League schools utilizing its large endowment to fund scholarships for all students.
Prier spent nine years as an assistant at his alma mater, St. Lawrence, and Princeton's gain is the Saints' loss.
“I wanted him to be the coach in standing (when I retired),” Marsh told the Watertown Daily Times. “That wasn't to be. I think it was a situation where he had to look elsewhere. I think he was looking for this chance. He was not unhappy here, (but) you have to be paying attention to moving up the ladder. ... Right now, we're happy for Bob. He's earned this in so many ways. He's embraced every aspect of this job with so much enthusiasm. That's what he's going to bring to Princeton.”
That's certainly what Walters saw.
"There's a substance to Bob, and there's authenticity," Walters said. "And when you have that combination, it's powerful. Kids see that. It resonates with them. Our team will benefit on the ice and off the ice."
Prier, like Gadowsky, will be the only coach in the Ivy League who isn't an alum of that school.
"I never even gave it a thought," Walters said. "We're always looking to hire the best person so our student athletes have the best experience. ... We have been successful hiring alumni. But on the other hand, my job is to hire the person I felt is the best for the job.
"Philosophical fit is really important. St. Lawrence itself is a good institution, it's not chopped liver. ... When you look at the entire package, we just felt that he was the best fit for us."
Prier has his hands full right away. He needs to make sure the recruits are still coming, especially one in particular, forward Zach Hyman, whose career has blossomed since he committed to Princeton. Hyman just won Canada's junior hockey player of the year, and was drafted in the fifth round last June by Florida. The Ivy Leagues don't have Letters of Intent, so Hyman can go anywhere without penalty, and is looking around.
CHN: What do you expect your style to be like.
Prier: I like the guys to have fun. I enjoy watching my players do spectacular things. It's not going to be much different than what fans have seen the last couple of years, but there will be differences. I'm not Guy, but we certainly have similar coaching styles.
CHN: Joe Marsh. How much can you say about the guy. His influence is obvious, but what's the biggest thing?
Prier: The respect he has of all the players and staff is incredible. Everyone just respects him so, so much. He really cares about people. He's the type of guy everyone roots for. I'm going to miss him.
CHN: Is there something particular you remember that he taught you from a coaching standpoint?
Prier: I learned from him every day, the tactical standpoint. But that's a small part of it. It's just someone I truly enjoy being around every day. And his motivational techniques ...
CHN: Yes. He's known as the funniest guy coach out there. How does that play in?
Prier: That's a quality he keeps. Guys want to come to the rink, guys want to be around him. It's an incredible quality. ... His balance (between keeping it light and serious) is perfect. He commands respect in a way that's caring and loving.
CHN: You're going from the Northern-most ECAC school, thereabouts, to the Southern-most. That's a change of pace.
Prier: It is nice. Actually when I came to interview about a week and a half ago, I said I was going to bring some leaves back with me (to Canton), because we didn't have any yet. I'm going to miss Canton.
CHN: You had your career cut short due to (a spinal) injury). Was it a hard transition.
Prier: Yeah, it was difficult. It was tough to do. But I'm grateful that I had the opportunity to do it, to start at a young age, to start coaching at the Division I level at 22 (as a volunteer assistant at Denver). I learned a lot from (Denver coach) George (Gwozdecky).
CHN: What pushed you towards coaching?
Prier: One of my friends from home wanted me to help him with the junior team. He asked me right away when I was in the hosptial. It took me four or five months where my motors skills were at the level I could help. And I immediately fell in love with it.
CHN: This has to have been a whirlwind couple of weeks. Could you having imagined this two weeks ago?
Prier: When I saw the press release online about Guy, I turned to my wife that night and I said, "I'm going to get that job." And she said "OK" — and she didn't see me for a while. I went to the office and worked on things, putting togeether a plan to be a Princeton hockey coach. Thankfully Gary gave me the chance.
CHN: What made you that confident?
Prier: All I can say is it was a feeling — fate, destiny whatever you want to call it. Man ... (laughs) ... yeah.
CHN: Despite that confidence, it seems you were still taken aback emotionally.
Prier: There's no question about it. I was condfident, I wanted this job. But at the same time, my appreciation for this opportunity I've been given, trumps that. And the feeling I got when Gary called me was incredible.
CHN: What did you learn when Joe was out with his illness?
Prier: I learned from every experience I had, and I learned quite a bit from that. I've been fortunate to work with Joe the last nine years. He's someone who delegates a lot to his staff, and I can't thank him enough for that. I know that's a difficult thing to do. I was fortunate that he allowed me to develop. I can't thank him enough.
CHN: Now you're the youngest coach in the league (and all of Division I), and the only one in the Ivy League not an alum of the school he's at.
Prier: (Laughs) ... I didn't know either of those statistics. That's great, and I'm excited.
CHN: What's your first step?
Prier: My first thing is to secure the recruits that are due to come in here in the fall. Then to find my new assistants. I have a very good idea of who I want them to be, and that will happen quickly, because I'm looking forward to having help. ... And I want to really have the opportunity to sit down and get to know (the current players) on a personal level over the next couple of weeks before they leave school.
CHN: Speaking of recruits, Zach Hyman is a guy who is the most important. He recently declared himself a free agent, basically.
Prier: I've already been there, done that. I had a great converastion with him and his father last night. It went well. They've committed to a few visits they're going to take. I said I hope he sees the great university that this is.