25 Years In, Marshall Gets His Chance
Long-Time UConn Coach Gets Added Opportunity, Pressure
by Scott McLaughlin/CHN Writer
HARTFORD, Conn. At Connecticut's "Welcome to Hockey East" celebration on Friday, all the talk from school administrators and state officials was about the high expectations they have for the rejuvenated Huskies hockey program, which will be moving to Hockey East in 2014.
Connecticut Senate Republican Leader John McKinney said it won't be long until top in-state players like Jonathan Quick, Max Pacioretty and Cam Atkinson are playing for the Huskies. UConn Director of Athletics Warde Manuel said the Huskies aren't joining Hockey East just to participate; they're joining to win championships.
UConn coach Bruce Marshall recognizes that none of that is going to happen overnight, though. Marshall, who is entering his 25th season behind his alma mater's bench, talked after the ceremony about what he expects the build-up process to be like over the next few years.
"I think it's going to change which kids we're talking to," Marshall said. "But we have to be careful how we do that. I don't think we can just jump in with more well-established programs. We've got to build our niche and pick away, and then we can be more selective."
Marshall guided UConn's jump to Division I in 1998 and led the Huskies to a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference title in 2000, but there hasn't been much to celebrate in Storrs since. UConn, which will continue to play in Atlantic Hockey for the next two years, is coming off its 12th straight losing season.
The hope is that jumping to Hockey East, moving from no scholarships to the maximum of 18, and playing conference home games at the XL Center in Hartford will reverse those fortunes.
"You always want to be as competitive as you can," Marshall said. "We've had some handcuffs that have stopped us from getting there. Now this gives us a little more jump and a little more energy to try to get there. We want to be competing at the national level. If you look at basketball, you look at football, you look at soccer, field hockey, baseball, they're all competing in the national tournament every year. Now that we have the opportunity, we want to be in that same line."
While Marshall's teams haven't had much success on the ice, they have prided themselves on succeeding in the classroom and having strong character. Marshall said it will be important to make sure that isn't sacrificed during the search for more skill and more success.
"We're going to keep recruiting kids with the same type of character, but skill-wise, we're going to start bringing in some higher-ranked kids," Marshall said. "We like the recruiting class we have coming in. We're just trying to enhance that. We like the meat of what we have. Now we might be able to put something a little saucier on the top."
Manuel, who took over as UConn's AD in February, said he understands that it won't be easy to recruit against established Hockey East programs, but that he fully expects the coaching staff to be able to sell the school and program.
"(Coach Marshall) knows that I'm here to help him in every way I can, but he also knows that my expectation is that we're pushing hard to win," Manuel said. "I don't like just participating in a sport. I like building to win. That's what our plan is moving forward. That's what our fans deserve, that's what our student-athletes deserve, and that's what our coaches are working to do."