COLLEGE COACH CONDUIT
By Warren Kozireski
New York State college hockey fans have been privileged to watch and enjoy some of the top coaches in the history of the game.
Current Boston College head coach Jerry York stands atop the all-time coaching wins list with 935 career wins (and counting) with 125 of those earned behind the bench at Clarkson University.
Plattsburgh State head coach Bob Emery had 523 career wins as of the start of this season—just 19 wins from moving into the top-15. And former Geneseo head coach Paul Duffy is 46th on the list with 358 wins over his 730-plus games.
Some of today’s coaches played college hockey in the western New York area such as current Niagara head coach Dave Burkholder, who played goal for RIT, former Niagara head coach—now Colby College head coach Blaise MacDonald, who played defense for the same team, Chris Schultz (Gates-Chili) at Geneseo, who played for the Knights in the mid-1990’s and former Niagara Purple Eagles forward Nick Carriere who is behind the bench at Buffalo State.
But there are three coaches among the top-60 all time in coaching wins on the list —two active—who laced up the skates as a player for the same western New York college.
With unofficially only 154 victories in 575 contest over 38 seasons, Brockport has been far from one of the most successful programs on the ice, but Mercyhurst College’s Rick Gotkin, Fredonia’s Jeff Merideth and former Canisius College head coach and current D’Youville Athletic Director Brian Cavanaugh all wore the green and gold jersey during their playing careers.
Gotkin entered the 2013-14 season ranked 26th all-time on the coaching wins list with 453 over 24 seasons.
He joined Mercyhurst in 1988-89 in the second year of the program’s existence and just began his 26 th season behind the Lakers bench.
“I attribute me to being in the top-60 to having great people around me,” said Gotkin. “Start with unbelievable assistant coaches and great student-athletes who have made me look a lot smarter than I am.
“I think we all love the game and played with or for a great guy like the late E.J. McGuire and Brian Cavanaugh was an assistant there when I played. (McGuire was born in Buffalo, played and coached at Brockport and was later an NHL assistant coach with Mike Keenan in Philadelphia and Chicago, a head coach with Portland in the AHL and an assistant with Rick Bowness in Ottawa before moving into scouting and becoming the head of Central Scouting for the NHL before his death in April 2011).
“I don’t think that I possess anything special or better than anybody else. I think we manage people and I’ve been blessed with great students.
“I don’t know about the other guys, but that’s how I feel.”
Gotkin has produced seven All-Americans, four Players of the Year, three Rookies of the Year and 17 all-conference selections over his now 25 seasons behind the bench with the Lakers, but he was far from the best player on his teams.
He recalls one locker room exchange with McGuire: “I remember Plattsburgh was killing us, which happened a lot, and back in the locker room E.J. was getting on the defensemen about how we were playing the two-on-ones and he spun around and said ‘Gotkin—what do you do on a two-on-one’ and I said ‘I can’t speak for these other five defensemen, but I get up and slide down the bench to get a better view.
“From my vantage point I got to see and hear a lot and I think I learned and though it all, as much as the game has evolved with players, the equipment, the strategy— it’s still pretty much the same game. You’re still trying to win one-on-one battles, you’re still trying to get pucks to the net, so it’s still hard work, effort and commitment, but it’s still the same game.