First-year Northeastern Coach Ben Smith is back home--in more ways than one.
A long-time area resident, Smith has returned--after a one-year absence--to college hockey in Boston.
After a one year absence from the land of the Beanpot, Smith now heads Northeastern's men's hockey program. And for a man with many years experience in coaching top hockey teams, rebuilding the Huskies (which finished a miserable 8-25-2 for the 1990-91 season) is a welcome challenge.
"I think that I have been very fortunate to have been involved with a number of schools which have given a lot of support to their hockey programs," Smith says. "All the schools I have been associated with over the years have treated hockey as an important part of their undergraduate scene."
He got his start, in fact, at one of the most hockey-crazed schools in the country--Harvard.
Smith, a 1968 graduate, represented the Crimson in the hockey arena for three of his four years as an undergraduate here at Harvard. He has fond memories of his time here, and especially of his coach, Cooney Weiland.
"Bill Cleary [current Harvard athletic director and former hockey coach] and I played under the same coach. Everybody thinks that Cleary was the master over here, but there was another master already there before him and he taught both of us."
Weiland, in fact, convinced Smith to start coaching. After graduation from Harvard, Smith served as an assistant at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst for a year, and then, after a brief hiatus from athletics, returned to coaching at his hometown high school in Gloucester.
Smith then went south to New Haven for five years as an assistant coach. Yale had at the time just hired Tim Taylor, Bill Cleary's assistant at Harvard, to be their head coach.
"Yale had a stumbling program," Smith recalled. "They were at the bottom of the league when we went in, and in five years we won the Ivy League championships. So we had a pretty successful time down there."
After Yale, Smith returned to Boston, taking up the position of top assistant at Boston University.
In doing so he renewed a longstanding friendship with BU Coach Jack Parker, who played for the Terriers while Smith was with the Crimson.
Smith's nine years at BU included a one-year sabbatical to serve as assistant coach for the U.S. national hockey team in the 1988 Winter Olympics.
After helping bring BU to the Final Four in 1990, he accepted an appointment as head coach at Dartmouth, but soon returned to the Boston area for family reasons.
His year with the Big Green resulted in a disappointing 1-24-3 record for the rebuilding program.
Ironically, the single victory came at the expense of Northeastern, which was to be his next assignment.
Smith brings a very different ap-
NORTHEASTERN VS. BOSTON UNIVERSITY
At Boston Garden, February 3, 1992, at 6 p.m.
Series This Season: Terriers, 2-0.
(December 6, 10-7; January 10, 6-4 at Matthews Arena)
Last Beanpot: Terriers, 1991. Northeastern, 1988
Players to Watch: Huskies--Forward Sebastien Laplante, Forward Rob Kenny, Goalie Tom Cole; Terriers--Forward David Sacco, Forward Mike Pomichter, Foward Petteri Koskimaki
Crimson Call: Cole has monster game, but Boston University Still wins in a blowout.
proach to Northeastern hockey. Over the years,Smith has trained with the best in collegehockey--Parker, Cleary, Taylor--and has, no doubt,incorporated his experience with them into hiscoaching philosophy at Northeastern.
"In reality, the reason we have sports is tocreate a diversion from the normal humdrum, to beenjoyed," Smith says. "I think that is one of thethings that I learned from watching Bill Cleary'sgreat Harvard teams. He coached with suchenjoyment and such effervescence that his teamstook on his personality, and that is the coach'srole."
Smith describes his team as a chain, only asstrong as its weakest link.
"It is my job to help a player play at hisbest," Smith says. "In doing so, there issomething of a sales job that has to be done. Itis a very demanding situation that we put playersin. So we have to do a little sugar-coating toremind the players that it is still a game," Smithsays.
Bill Doherty of Northeastern's SportsInformation Office credits him with dramaticallyimproving the team's playing style (the Huskiesare 12-13-0 this year).
"He was hired because of his impeccablequalifications, with coaching at college hockey aswell as at the national level [U.S. Olympic team,three World junior teams, and two national juniorteams]," Doherty says. "Last year, we had a veryrugged, physical style of play, and we incurred alot of penalties. This year we play a moresophisticated, finesse game, which is no doubtborrowed from his international experience."
So far, Smith is pleased with the progress ofhis team. He considers this first year a time forlearning. He must first get acquainted with hisplayers and staff, and they, in turn, must adaptthemselves to his coaching style.
Smith feels that Northeastern is slowlycatching up to the other eastern hockey powers,but refuses to set a timetable for improvement.
As for this year's Beanpot, he looks atNortheastern as the decided underdog.
"So far we have played Boston University andBoston College twice each, and not beaten eitherone, and Harvard is ranked number one in the ECAC.But we have to go into these games and play ourbest. We will not let ourselves be overpowered byanybody."
Smith says that over the years the significanceof the Beanpot has changed.
"Back then there was just one league in theEast, the ECAC, and it seemed that these fourschools [the Beanpot participants], along withmaybe three other schools, dominated the entireEast," Smith says. "In one sense there was agreater significance to those [Beanpot] games,since they counted for league standings, whichthey don't anymore."
Nevertheless, he believes that the tournament,celebrating its 40th year, retains its magic.
"The tournament has gotten so large now that ittranscends the league," Smith says. "People whodon't even really care about hockey love theBeanpot. For the 80 boys who play in thetournament this year, there is much more to itthan just the outcomes. This is an experience thatis going to last them the rest of theirlifetimes.