Hockey East Gets Rare Coaching Shake-Up As Northeastern, Providence, UMass-Lowell All Welcome New Bench Bosses


Hockey East Gets Rare Coaching Shake-Up As Northeastern, Providence, UMass-Lowell All Welcome New Bench Bosses "There is nothing so stable as change."

Bob Dylan's words are applicable in so many instances, but rarely have they been applicable to Hockey East coaches. College hockey's premier conference is home to longtime coaching standouts such as Boston College's Jerry York, Boston University's Jack Parker and New Hampshire's Dick Umile, each who have led their respective schools for over 15 years.

The league rarely sees turnover at the head coach position, going the previous six seasons without any moves behind the bench. That all changed this summer as three schools –- Northeastern, Providence and UMass-Lowell –- made new head coaching hires.

"I've been told this is the first time in Hockey East history there have been three [coaching hires] at one time," said commissioner Joe Bertagna. "I couldn't believe it when I heard it, but the more you think about it, you realize how steady our league is with our coaches."

The Huskies watched their head man Greg Cronin bolt for an assistant coaching gig with the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs. Providence cut ties with bench boss Tim Army, now an assistant with the Colorado Avalanche, after missing the postseason for the third consecutive year. Lowell parted ways with Blaise MacDonald, who stepped down from his position in March and is now an assistant at Massachusetts.

While the coaching shifts signal an adjustment for Northeastern, Providence and Lowell, it also means the existing coaches have something new to prepare for.

"Historically we've been more stable than other sports like basketball and football leagues," BC's Jerry York said. "This year, for one reason or another, three new coaches are here. I don't know if there's any real reason for it, but it's going to bring three new approaches to the way teams play hockey, which will force teams to evaluate how it impacts Lowell, Northeastern and Providence. Probably have to throw away some old game tapes because they're all new looks now."

Northeastern settled on Jim Madigan as the 10th coach in program history, a man already familiar with the school. The 48-year-old Madigan played for the Huskies from 1981-85 and served as an assistant coach from 1986-93. Since then he has spent the last 18 years as an NHL scout with the Islanders and Penguins, earning a Stanley Cup ring with the Pens in 2009.

Though he has not coached in nearly two decades, Madigan doesn't expect the transition to be too difficult.

"I think as a coach and a coaching staff you have an identity you want to instill within your team," he said. "We have that and we talked to our players about that type of identity and what do we want to look like as a team.

"In some ways there's not a lot we want to change because there was a good identity and culture here. I'm taking over for a very successful coach who didn't leave an empty cupboard, he left a strong foundation, so we're just going to look to build off that."

Providence landed a coach who has already proven he can turn a program around, signing Nate Leaman to be the 12th head coach in Friars hockey history. Leaman enters PC with an impressive resume, earning Division I Coach of the Year honors after leading Union College to a 26-10-4 mark last season and the program's first NCAA Tournament appearance.

In eight seasons in Schenectady, N.Y., Leaman compiled an overall record of 138-127-35. He was also a member of Maine's 1999 National Championship team as an assistant coach.

"I brought all of our committed freshmen in for summer school, as well as five or six of our upperclassmen to try to get to know them," Leaman said. "We're getting to know each other. I think they're learning to adjust to me and I'm learning to adjust to them, and sometimes that chemistry takes some time to gel together."

A standout player with the Riverhawks from 1990-94, Norm Bazin returned to his alma mater to become the sixth coach in Lowell's history. The Manitoba native was a key cog as a senior for his team, scoring 20 goals and 15 assists to help his team to a 25-10-5 record and an appearance in the Hockey East championship game. After 11 years coaching at Colorado College and Hamilton College, Bazin now gets his chance to put his stamp on his old team.

"I think it's going to take some time to play our style, to institute our philosophy, but it's not the players I inherited, it's our team," Bazin said. "We're going to be a united group this year and work towards playing a puck-possession style."

Though it remains to be seen what kind of success these new coaches have, Bertagna believes good things are to come for the newest members of the Hockey East coaching fraternity.

"I have a vested interest not just as a commissioner but personally because I work directly with these guys all the time," he said. "If there are changes I want to see who they bring in. I'm thrilled for them.

"I think if you look at our roster of coaches, most of our schools have a link to the school, know the school, know the culture, and it kind of adds to the stability of it. They're all in one way or another coming back to the league, and I think they'll help make our league stronger."

Photo courtesy of Flickr/@epstemar.

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