Following in the footsteps of a legend isn’t always easy, but Mike Souza has taken his first season behind the New Hampshire Wildcats’ bench in stride.
Souza, who played for the Wildcats from 1996 to 2000, took the reins from Dick Umile when the longtime head coach retired in March after 28 years at the head of the Wildcats’ men’s hockey program. While some might have found the prospect of following in Umile’s footsteps daunting, the former UNH assistant has found his footing quickly thanks to help from his former coach and mentor.
“One of the nice things is, I’m very familiar with UNH and a lot of people that are here,” Souza told NESN.com. “There are great people here. (Umile) was incredibly supportive of me through this whole transition. And it wasn’t easy for any of us last year, we didn’t have the season that we wanted to have. He never let that get in the way of really mentoring me and helping me realize some of the challenges that were ahead.
“He really showed a lot of humility in the way that he handled the whole transition with me and wanting me and wanting the program to succeed and continue to build off so many of the great things that he had done. So the transition was overall, I’d say, really, really smooth thanks in large part to Coach Umile.”
Umile, who coached UNH to two NCAA National Championship Game appearances during his tenure, continues to help guide his successor.
“The one thing he told me and the best piece of advice is: Be yourself,” Souza said. “And he said, ‘Don’t try to be me and don’t try to be someone your not. Just be yourself and things will all work out.'”
The Wildcats got off to a bumpy start in Souza’s first season, but they have righted the ship of late, going 7-1-3 in their last 11 games ahead of this week’s Hockey East doubleheader against Maine on NESN and NESNplus.
“I wasn’t concerned about our record early in the year, we were in each and every game,” Souza said. “I don’t think there’s one thing we’re doing any different. Our practice structure is the same, our approach is the same. The one thing I think that has helped us is that we’ve solidified some lines as of late, they’ve showed some great synergy.
” … We’re kind of a one day at a time group. That’s been our focus, and our approach. We have a long way to go starting with a very tough matchup this weekend against Maine.”
Souza and the Wildcats currently sit in seventh place in the Hockey East standings, but a clean sweep of eighth-place Maine will put them on the path to finishing Year 1 under Souza the right way.
You can watch New Hampshire and Maine square off on Friday, Feb. 1 at 7 p.m. ET on NESNplus and Saturday, Feb. 2 at 7 p.m. on NESN. Here is NESN’s complete hockey and basketball schedule for Feb. 1-3:
Friday, Feb. 1
3:30 p.m. ET — ECAC Women’s Hockey: Yale at Harvard (NESN)
7 p.m. — Men’s Hockey East: Maine at New Hampshire (NESNplus)
7:30 p.m. — ECAC Men’s Hockey: Dartmouth at No. 19 Harvard (NESN)
Saturday, Feb. 2
Noon — ACC Men’s Basketball: Georgia Tech at No. 25 Florida State (NESN)
2 p.m. — ACC Men’s Basketball: Notre Dame at Boston College (NESN)
4:30 p.m. — Ivy League Women’s Basketball: Harvard at Brown (NESN)
4:30 p.m. — CAA Men’s Basketball: Hofstra at Northeastern (NESNplus)
7 p.m. — ECAC Men’s Hockey: Maine at New Hampshire (NESN)
Sunday, Feb. 3
Noon — ACC Women’s Basketball: Georgia Tech at No. 5 Notre Dame (NESN)
1 p.m. — Women’s Hockey East: Vermont at Holy Cross (NESNplus)