BOSTON — A familiar face will be back at Whittemore Center this winter, and the University of New Hampshire hopes he will help the men’s hockey program reclaim its former glory.
Ty Conklin, arguably the best goalie in Wildcats history, recently was named goaltending development coach, UNH announced Monday. Now 43 years old, Conklin joins the UNH coaching staff after spending four seasons as the goaltending development coach for the St. Louis Blues.
To say Conklin is a big addition to the program would be a huge understatement. His resumé speaks for itself.
— Two-time All-American.
— Two-time Hobey Baker Award finalist.
— Member of UNH Athletics Hall of Fame.
— School record holder in goals-against average with a 2.18.
— Starting goalie on 1998-1999 team, which made it to National Championship Game.
— Senior captain in 2001.
— Played in nine NHL seasons and 215 career games.
— Participated in each of the first three NHL regular-season outdoor games (Not particularly relevant, but interesting nevertheless).
Wildcats head coach Mike Souza, a teammate of Conklin’s for three seasons at UNH, is understandably excited to bring his longtime friend into the fold. Conklin not only brings a wealth of knowledge as a goaltender, but he also adds a powerful voice that has experience at all levels of hockey. The Arizona native also knows what it’s like to be at rock bottom as a goalie, having been on the ice for the most heartbreaking moment in UNH hockey history.
“It was a little bit of a recruiting process in bringing him back,” Souza said told NESN.com on Thursday at Hockey East Media Day. ” … I know him well. I thought it was a unique time where we’ve got two prospect goaltenders, where he’ll provide an incredible amount of help in terms of what it’s like to be a goalie (at this level). And I also thought he could bring a tremendous amount of knowledge to our staff and to our program.
“So, it’s not just what he can do for our goaltenders. I think he’s an asset for our whole entire program. He’s played with, and played for, some of the most iconic players and coaches in the business.”
Of course, UNH hopes Conklin can help junior goalie Mike Robinson, a San Jose Sharks draft pick who started 31 games last season, take his game to the next level. But Conklin also will be tasked with developing the program’s younger netminders, such as sophomore goalie Ty Taylor, a Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick.
“The most difficult part of being a goaltender at our level is — they’re all talented athletically — it’s managing the mental ups and downs of not only game in-game out, but maybe period by period, letting in a goal,” Souza said. “How you respond to that. I always reference the baseball pitcher who gives up a home run and then he’s demanding the ball back from the umpire. Just having that sort of swagger.
“I played with Ty, he was one of the most competitive people I’ve ever been around. He was intense, focused, had an incredible work ethic. To bring some of those values and pass those along to our goalies and our players, I think it’s a tremendous opportunity not only for the goalies we have, but for goaltenders that are looking to come to UNH in the future.”
Obviously, the addition of Conklin alone won’t help UNH return to the top of the Hockey East standings. The reality is the program has endured four straight sub-.500 seasons and hasn’t made it to the NCAA Tournament since 2013. That said, there are reasons to be optimistic about this team.
UNH played in a program-record (and nation-leading) 14 overtime games last season and set a conference record for most ties in a single season, ultimately finishing with a 12-15-9 record The hope is that this young team — which carries a combined 15 freshmen and sophomores — has learned from those experiences, and has taken the strides necessary to come out on the winning side more often.
“I know it sounds like coach speak, but I wasn’t concerned with the results, necessarily,” Souza said. “I wanted us to play a certain way, play a certain style, and I think the kids bought into that and I think that led to us being in a lot of games last year. I think it got us to a point where we were able to tie a lot of games. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to push ourselves over the top and win our share. I’m hoping that changes this year.
“We’ve got a lot of returning players. Patrick Grasso comes to mind, he’s one of only three guys in our league to have scored 20 goals (in a season). He’s healthy. Guys are a year older and bigger, stronger. We’ve returned most of our guys who played in key situations for us last year, so I’m hoping that translates to us having more wins.”
Whether UNH will have more wins this season than last remains to be seen. What we reasonably can say with total confidence, however, is that the Wildcats couldn’t have picked a better coach to lead the men between the pipes.