NCAA Hockey 101: Big coaching changes already, but are more coming?

NCAA Hockey 101: Big coaching changes already, but are more coming?

Last summer, there wasn't a single coach fired in college hockey.

The only real change at all was new national title winner Brad Berry being elevated to the top job at North Dakota because long-time bench boss Dave Hakstol got a job with the Flyers (and ended up overcoming a lot of skepticism to get a not-great team into the playoffs).

This offseason, however, has been a little more active already. Before the season even officially ended, a few jobs have opened up, and two of them were already filled. Mike Eaves got bounced at Wisconsin for his second straight abysmal season, and John Micheletto was turfed at UMass for his fourth consecutive unwatchable campaign.

Both men have already been replaced, with a terrifying three-headed dragon of new head coach Tony Granato (still an assistant with the Red Wings) with associate head coaches Don Granato and Mark Osiecki now poised to rain blood and fire on the Big Ten conference. They'll have a bit of work ahead of them, but with a group that good running the show in Madison, there's basically guaranteed success in the Badgers' future.

Around the same time, UMass hired Greg Carvel — previously the coach at St. Lawrence but with plenty of ties to the Amherst, Mass., area — to replace Micheletto. (The Saints have not hired Carvel's replacement at this point.) Carvel's track record is a little more specious, with a record just nine games above .500 over four seasons, none of which resulted in an NCAA tournament appearance nor a trip past the league semifinal, which they made just once.

Now, Carvel is a bit of a wildcard here, because his team won 19 games this season but was a sub-average possession team, and relied almost entirely upon the work of high-level sophomore goaltender Kyle Hayton (who should have been a Richter finalist with his .935 save percentage). In college hockey, the best predictor of long-term winning percentage is shots-for percentage in all situations, and though Carvel was a .530 coach at St. Lawrence, his teams carried a SF% of about 48 percent in that time. Not all that impressive, but he was rebuilding a program that had been trending down for a couple of years.

Is he the right man for the job at UMass? The school obviously thinks so, but it's very difficult to tell because over his four years behind the bench, Micheletto showed off a penchant for recruiting talented kids (Frank Vatrano and Brandon Montour were both his work) but being absolutely awful at coaching them. Carvel is a clear improvement on that front because he almost certainly has literally any sort of system in place, but whether that's enough to make UMass truly competitive as something in, say, the top six of Hockey East very much remains up in the air, and will likewise have to be seen to be actually believed.

As for the St. Lawrence job, some names have been tossed around but nothing seems to be particularly concrete. The obvious answer to replace Carvel is Mike Hurlbut, who is currently the interim coach after years of being an assistant and then the associate coach. Hurlbut is also a Saints alum, and the assumption is that if he wants the job he can have it. But there are some other names out there, including Chris Wells (coach of the school's women's team), Kris Mayotte (currently an assistant at Providence College under Nate Leaman and a Union alum that seems to be ready for a head coaching gig), and Bill Riga (a Quinnipiac assistant who played at UMass Lowell and is unquestionably ready to run his own program).

Finally, the American International job opened up when Gary Wright called it a career after 31 years(!!!) as head coach. No word yet on who's going to replace him, or who's even in the running, but you can bet the Yellow Jackets won't blow anyone's doors off with a big hire.

Meanwhile, two guys who have been the subject of retirement rumors — BC's Jerry York and Michigan's Red Gendron Berenson — have already stated unequivocally they'll be back next year despite the fact that they have nothing to prove and are both in their 70s. York passed the 1,000 win mark earlier this season and might want to round the bend for 1,100 for all we know.

And now let's just address one of the rumored departures from the college hockey sphere that has come up in the last few days: It's starting to look pretty obvious that Claude Julien will get the boot in Boston, and the number of potential replacements already named by some rumor-mongers include Mike Milbury and Adam Oates. However, there was one name — cited by a writer who to my knowledge has never broken a major story, and coming from the same publication as the writer who started the Milbury rumor  — that came up and should be of major interest to college hockey fans:

Nate Leaman.

The Providence College coach is about as smart and driven and successful as you could probably want a coach to be. Certainly, few from the college ranks would seem so uniquely qualified to succeed at the NHL level, and maybe you even argue that Hakstol's success greased the skids a little bit. Certainly, the prospect of Leaman moving on to bigger and better things has been kicked around among college hockey insiders for much of this year. “Think he'd do it?” and so on. The results have been a bit mixed. Some believe that because of how driven he is, he would of course jump on the opportunity. Others believe that the amount of organizational control he has over every aspect of a college program (especially the players) would appeal to him more than just being part of a big machine at the NHL level.

Personally, I'd lean far more toward him being interested in the job than not, but again, we're talking about a rumor started by someone who hasn't broken a story of that gravity before. I'd be inclined to suspect it won't happen, but certainly, stranger things have.

And if he were to go, that's probably a domino knocked over that leads to college hockey coaching chaos. The most obvious replacement for Leaman is the man who replaced Leaman at Union, 2014 national title-winner and former Friar Rick Bennett. And if Bennett takes the Providence gig, that's the Union job opened up. And you go from there.

All told, this means that we're now paying for how quiet the summer before this season really was. Four jobs opened up for sure, two of them already filled, and potentially more changes on the way. Buckle up.

A somewhat arbitrary ranking of teams which are pretty good in my opinion only (and just for right now but maybe for a little longer too?)

1. North Dakota (won the national title with wins over Denver and Quinnipiac)

2. Quinnipiac (national runner-up with a win over BC and loss to North Dakota)

3. Boston College (lost to Quinnipiac)

4. Denver (lost to North Dakota)

5. UMass Lowell (idle)

6. Minnesota-Duluth (idle)

7. Michigan (idle)

8. Ferris State (idle)

9. Providence (idle)

10. Yale (idle)

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist and also covers the NCAA for College Hockey News. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

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