After a losing 2013-2014 campaign with one of the youngest college squads in the country, members of the Harvard men's hockey team have viewed next season as an opportunity to benefit from more experienced leadership on the ice. The Crimson can now look forward to more experience behind the bench, as well.
Former Holy Cross head coach Paul Pearl will join Harvard as an associate head coach at the start of the 2014-2015 season. He will work alongside head coach Ted Donato '91 and assistant coach Rob Rassey.
"I think it's an exciting hire for us," Donato said. "Paul brings a wealth of experience. He's done a great job off and on the ice of developing guys, and I think he'll be a great addition to our staff. He'll give us some heft in all the areas."
After days of rumors, Harvard announced Pearl's hiring on Thursday. Pearl leaves a 297-293-69 record through 19 seasons with Holy Cross and is the winningest coach in the program's history.
"He's obviously a respected coach," junior co-captain Kyle Criscuolo said. "He had a great career at Holy Cross.... I think he'll get along great with our coaches, and it's a big pick up for us."
Pearl will replace departing assistant coach Albie O'Connell, who has taken another assistant post at his alma mater, Boston University, after three seasons with Harvard.
"It's tough to lose a guy like Albie O'Connell," Criscuolo said. "He's been around the game forever. He was a great coach for us, and it's tough to lose him, especially to BU."
According to Donato, the new title of associate head coach intends to recognize Pearl's experience, track record, and success as a head coach. Pearl has served as a head coach in more than twice as many NCAA games as Donato, who is 136-156-39 through 10 seasons with the Crimson.
Pearl graduated from Holy Cross in 1989. The Winthrop, Mass. native skated in 125 games and scored 77 career points as a defenseman for the Crusaders.
As a head coach, Pearl served two separate stints for the Crusaders. After his first two seasons behind the bench in Worcester, Pearl moved to Providence for the 1996-1997 season to serve as the assistant coach of the Brown men's hockey team and the head coach of the Brown men's golf team.
Returning to Holy Cross for the 1997-98 season, Pearl coached the Crusaders in 2003-2004 and 2005-2006 to the program's only two conference championships and NCAA tournament appearances.
In the first round of the 2006 national tournament, 15th-seeded Holy Cross upset No. 2 Minnesota. The 4-3 overtime win by Pearl's squad marked the first-ever tournament victory by a 15th of 16th seed since the NCAA had expanded the championship field to 16 teams in 2003.
"That game really sent shockwaves across the college hockey landscape," Donato said. "It was quite remarkable and quite an accomplishment."
Pearl has coached nine more seasons and won 130 more games than the next longest-tenured Holy Cross coach. After directing the Crusaders to its first consecutive 20-win seasons in 2011-12 and 2012-13, Pearl oversaw Holy Cross's first losing record in four years with a 14-22-3 finish in 2013-14.
Holy Cross announced Pearl's resignation on May 16—two weeks before Harvard announced Pearl's hiring.
"I am saddened to see coach Pearl go, as he has been a big part of this great institution both as a student-athlete and a coach," said Holy Cross director of athletics Nathan Pine in a press release. "But we support Paul and his family in this decision and wish him continued success."
Donato described Pearl's move to Harvard as a "life-based decision." Pearl lives close to Cambridge and faced long commutes to Worcester.
At Harvard, Pearl will offer the broad expertise of a head coach yet will likely focus on special teams and defense. He will be tasked with restoring the Crimson's power play to national prominence and increasing offensive production from the team's blue line, which combined for a league-low four goals during the 2013-2014 season.
Criscuolo feels that Pearl will offer an immediate "respect factor" when the team resumes formal practices in September.
"Coach Donato has been doing a lot behind the scenes to make sure we're all ready," Criscuolo said. "I think that adding another guy who's known for winning and done a great job coaching will help [Donato] and help us improve individually and as a team."
—Staff writer Michael D. Ledecky can be reached at email@example.com.