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UConn Hockey's Next Step

May 3, 2013

By Will Moran '14, WHUS Radio

There remain unanswered questions as the Huskies look towards from the future. The University looks for a permanent coach as the team transitions into college hockey’s best conference. David Berard will be among the candidates and has the confidence of his players behind him.

Coach Berard said in an interview before the playoffs, “If you show your players you care about them, you can push them to any limit.”

The decision will be up to UConn Athletic Director Warde Manuel, alongside Senior Associate Athletic Director Doug Gnodtke who oversees the men’s hockey program as the sport’s administrator. Manuel knows what he is looking for in UConn’s next head coach and has taken careful steps to find the candidate with those characteristics.

“Obviously we’re looking for someone who is going to help as we elevate the program. Help bring that success not only next year in Atlantic Hockey but in Hockey East and help us develop the program with scholarships and do some of the things we are doing to transition,” Manuel said.

As important as the on-ice success will be for the next coach, academic success is equally as important for Manuel. “I want coaches who have had success developing student-athletes or have been a part of a program that has done that and coaches who are successful with the academic side with their student athletes as well. It’s not just what they’ll do on the ice; it’s how the program and the coaches have been with their student athletes in the classroom and off the ice,” Manuel said.

Among the challenges facing Manuel is how to gauge a candidate’s character, as well as separating a single person’s success from that of an entire coaching staff. “You have to looking into their background. We have to do our due diligence and talk to people who know different candidates confidentially to get a sense of who they are as people,” Manuel said. “You ask them questions in the interview process to gauge their response to certain questions or situations to get them to provide feedback on how to deal with those things.”

Separating a coach’s individual accomplishments from that of a team is even more difficult, especially when looking at an assistant coach. “The head coach gets all the credit but a head coach can’t be successful without great assistant coaches and great student athletes,” said Manuel. “Obviously with an assistant coach it is harder to determine how much they impact the success. You have to talk to the head coach, talk to the people that would know the program who would understand the impact of that particular person. So it’s a little harder with an assistant because they aren’t the ones making the final decisions but you can get really good feedback from people in the process and you can also, in the interview process, get a good sense of whether or not an assistant coach has done the things to prepare them to be successful.”

Outside of the feedback coming to Manuel from his team, the student-athletes at UConn have had a chance to voice their opinion. “I take into account what they would like to see in their head coach,” said Manuel.  “But student-athletes are not involved in interviewing candidates. I met with some of the student-athletes and we talked about and received their perspective of what characteristics they would like to see in their head coach.”

Manuel has not spoken and will not speak with any recruits for the hockey program about how their commitment would be effected if David Berard was not hired. Berard is still acting as the Head Coach until told otherwise and is considered a serious candidate for the full time position. “I’m very proud of the team. Obviously David has done a great job and is candidate for the position. I am very impressed with him. I have gotten a chance to see him over the last five months or so lead that program and we will interview him as a part of the process and make a decision I believe that will take us through this year and into playing in Hockey East,” Manuel said of Berard.

Manuel expects a four to five year commitment on the contract of the next head coach in order to build a winning program at UConn.

“In my mind you need, as we move forward, is somebody to come in with a commitment from us of about 4-5 years. It’s not something where I expect us to win the conference tournament the first year in hockey east. When you are building a program I need to know and whoever is selected as the coach needs to know that there is a long term commitment to them to build a program the right way,” Manuel explained.

On a final note, Manuel explained that UConn made a four-year commitment to Hockey East to play at the XL Center in Hartford. “That helps us with marketing and selling the program. It helps with fan base coming in and the experience of our team playing in a former NHL and now an AHL facility. It is a great facility to play hockey in and it gives us time to really go into more detail and to plan what a facility on campus would cost as well as to start to develop a plan, a financing and a fundraising plan to build anything that we would need to build on campus.”