Q&A with ... Colorado College Coach Mike Haviland
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Mike Haviland was named head coach of Colorado College last week, his first college coaching experience of any kind. He worked his way up from youth hockey in New Jersey, to winning two East Coast Hockey League championships with two different New Jersey franchises. From there, he landed jobs in the American Hockey League and eventually as an assistant with the Chicago Blackhawks, where he won a Stanley Cup. He was let go from the Blackhawks in a coaching shakeup, and returned to the AHL before getting the CC job.
CHN: You played college hockey at Elmira (1986-90). Was that for (future Cornell coach) Brian McCutcheon?
Haviland: Brian my first year and Glenn Thomaris for three. Brian and Glenny had a big impact on me. I left home pretty early, went to Oakville (Ontario) then Elmira. They had two different styles, which is great. The more coaches you're around the better. I look back on things they did and implemented on how I wanted to run programs too.
CHN: You played pro a little bit, but then there was a gap before you got into coaching. What were you doing?
Haviland: I was working a regular job in New Jersey. I was a salesman and I woke up one day and said to my wife, "I've got to get out of this." I ended up coaching a youth hockey team for like five years and was the hockey director at a rink in New Jersey. It was a midget AA team and we went to the national championship. We played Shattuck St. Mary with Andy Murray as the coach. We were just a team of kids from Pennsylvania and New Jersey. And we had a great year. I did five years of that.
CHN: So how did you transition to coaching for Trenton (in the East Coast Hockey League)?
Haviland: One of the players on the youth team, his dad did business with the Trenton owners. He said, "Hey, Trenton's coming in with an ECHL team, are you interested?" I said, "Yeah, I would love to chat with him." They hired me that first year that building was getting built. I still kept my other job. They hired me as a consultant. I did anything they wanted me to do and then became an assistant coach for two years and we went to the finals. And then I got the (head coaching) job in Atlantic City.
CHN: As you were working in pro hockey all those years, did you ever think college hockey was something you wanted to get back to at some point?
Haviland: It was always in the back of my head. I thought the college game was similar to pro in that colleges are really starting to just hire college guys from within, like the pro game. Every once in a while you'd hear (Jack) Parker or (Jerry) York be mentioned for a pro job, but they never left (college). So you think about it, it's always in the back of your head. But when this job opened (at CC), it was such a great situation. You think of Colorado College as an elite program in college hockey. When they reached out, it went really quick. It was a great fit.
CHN: How long did it take you to feel comfortable coaching, like, feeling that this is something you could really do and do well?
Haviland: Even growing up in New Jersey and playing Tier II in Oakville, I was always a student of the game. I always wanted to talk about it. If we had video, and there wasn't a lot, I always wanted to watch it. Any time there was a game I was watching it. I always felt that if you listen and talk to people, you learn a lot. When I went back (to Elmira) and had some school to finish, Glenny asked me to come on as a volunteer. There was a decision to be made about paying bills. But I just missed it so much. I knew this was my passion to be a coach.
CHN: Of course, there's only so long you can toil before needing to pay the bills, as you said. Did you ever reach a crossroads?
Haviland: I think it's more of a quality of life for me and being with the right people. You surround yourself with (good) staff, and you want to work with the right people. There are certain times in life where there will be crossroads, and I've moved around a lot. You just continue to grow and develop and learn.
CHN: Clearly getting to work with Joel Quenneville in Chicago must have been a great experience. Can you even put that into words?
Haviland: It was ... unbelievable. Every kid dreams of winning a Stanley Cup, and I was fortunate enough to do it. To have my name on the Stanley Cup is an honor and privilege. I'll never forget the amount of work and dedication each and every person had to do to get there. It's the hardest trophy to win. To be a part of it and deal with world-class athletes ... you learn an awful lot from Joel and Scotty Bowman, who we had as a consultant. You get a chance to deal with them on a regular basis and do a lot of listening. You keep learning. The experience was amazing. And I spent three years in the AHL and nine of my players and myself went up (to Chicago), so I had a more special feeling with that, that I had something to do with their development, to see their journey from buses to a Stanley Cup.
CHN: Is there any one thing that sticks out as the best piece of advice you've gotten over the years?
Haviland: Not a coach, but my dad. He said, "Treat people the way you want to be treated first in life." And that's what I've taken with me. I've been to the NHL now and you still have to treat people the way you want to be treated. And you get the best out of your players (that way). There's countless things in hockey, from Quenneville to Bowman to Cutchy (McCutcheon) — even to players like (Marian) Hossa and (Jonathan) Toews, to hear them talk about things and how they do it. You gotta listen.
CHN: Were you influenced by any one style over another, or is it like a mish-mosh of everything?
Haviland: It's a bit of a mish mosh, but one thing — Scotty Bowman has had a big impact on my coaching. I've really gotten close to him and I've really asked a lot of questions over the course of our relationship. And I will continue to. He's an upfront guy and he has a unique way of how he got the best of players.
CHN: Is it more Xs and Os from him or the motivational stuff?
Haviland: Both. The things he thinks about in the game. Scotty is a mastermind of getting you to be thinking outside the box. He's always asking you questions. He's taking the info in and then you can have some dialogue with him.
CHN: Twenty years ago, when you started coaching youth hockey in New Jersey, there was barely any kids from Eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey in college hockey, and now there's tons. Do you take pride in being some part of that?
Haviland: I do take some pride in it. That whole area, even Delaware, Connecticut, Long Island — there's more kids coming. There was a stat a couple years ago — five years in a row a kid from New Jersey was drafted in the first round (of the NHL Draft). If you told me that 20 years ago, I'd say no way. With the Rangers winning (in 1994), the Devils (three times), the sport exploded. There's more and more rinks, more kids playing. The in-line really helped too and it translated to ice. There's a lot of populated areas and it's taken off. There's kids I had in festivals, they were captains at Michigan State when they won a national championship. There's so many kids playing college hockey. It's a testament to what started years and years ago. I'm happy it's gone that way.
CHN: Was there something you remember being part of specifically led to some of the growth?
Haviland: I was one of the early ones involved with the Atlantic District for Team USA, and festival things. I got in 2-3 years into it. There's good hockey minds and people in that area. I was fortunate enough they reached out to me. And I ended up helping out. What USA Hockey did, making districts, having festival teams, bringing out the best 240 kids, from the Rocky Mountains to California — a lot of people have done a lot of good things. I had a small percentage of that to help out in New Jersey.
CHN: So do you feel you can use your connections to recruit in New Jersey? That's not a place Colorado College has recruited much before.
Haviland: Yes. I have connections. I have some people out there that I know and trust. I think we have a lot to offer as a school. It's beautiful country. Not every kid wants to play out West, but I'm sure there's some that will. We have to go out there and see what's out there.
CHN: Do you know what you're going to do with the staff? (Assistants Eric Rud and Joe Bonnett remain on staff for now.)
Haviland: No. I'm going to meet with the two assistants this week and see where we want to go from here. Certainly I want to get the right staff and people who believe in what I believe, and in the vision and plan I set forth here. This is a program that I believe can easily compete. It was just one (bad) season last year. We can easily be back to being a national power. It's just a matter of putting in some different things.