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The 2003-04 Harvard men’s hockey season may unfold on a series of wintry New England nights, but a big part of the Crimson’s identity in years to come will be determined during the dog days of August within the confines of Dillon Fieldhouse.
There, head coach Mark Mazzoleni will make phone calls and interview candidates to replace top assistant and recruiting coordinator Nate Leaman, who accepted the head job at Union College last week.
During the first half of his four-year tenure in Cambridge, Leaman, known for his recruiting savvy, teamed with then-Harvard assistant Ron Rolston to recruit the 16 seniors and juniors who make this year’s edition of the Crimson the early favorite to win the ECAC.
So over the next two years, it’s up to Sean McCann ’94—who hadn’t coached before last season—and Leaman’s replacement to bring in 16 new players capable of building on the rebirth of a program that has made consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time in a decade.
“This could be a critical time for that program,” said one ECAC coach. “They’re going to be very good this year. They’ve got an excellent senior class and an excellent junior class.
“Now they need to have a big recruiting year to keep that up.”
Mazzoleni said interviews would take place next week, though he isn’t sure how many finalists there will be. He hopes to make a decision by the middle of the month.
The position is at Harvard salary grade 56, which brings in annual earnings between $41,200 and $68,700. The title is posted as first assistant/recruiting coordinator, but Mazzoleni said the division of responsibilities between McCann and the new hire has yet to be determined.
“We’ve advertised Nate Leaman’s position, but I could also bump up Sean McCann to that position,” Mazzoleni said. “Or I could have Sean in that position but hire a recruiting coordinator.
“We’re not specific about what our needs are at this point. We’re just looking for the best person to compliment Sean and me and meet the needs of our program.”
Mazzoleni did not disclose the names of applicants, though he acknowledged that he has benefited from having gone through a similar process last summer when he hired McCann to replace Rolston.
“I have an idea of who’s out there, even though new people emerge, too,” Mazzoleni said. “You have a heads-up on it because the same people express interest.”
For that reason, multiple coaches said they expect Brown assistant Danny Brooks, a finalist for the Harvard opening last summer, to be a top candidate again.
Brooks could not be reached for comment, though an ECAC coach said Brooks was “the only name” he had heard in connection with the position.
“[Brooks] is a guy who I know is interested,” the coach said. “And he’s a good recruiter.”
Brown’s top assistant, Chris Potter, had an on-campus interview for the Harvard job last summer, but said Mazzoleni hasn’t contacted him recently.
“I was interested last year, but I haven’t been contacted yet, so I’m assuming I’m not a candidate,” Potter said. “It’s getting kind of late, so I’m sure he has a couple top candidates that he’s talking to.”
John Riley could become one of them. He was the other finalist when Leaman was hired in 1999 and applied for the vacancy last summer. On Wednesday, Riley confirmed he is interested again.
“Anytime you have the opportunity to work at Harvard, you have to take a look at that,” said the 36-year-old Riley. “To be fair, I do not consider myself, as of yet, a serious candidate, but I am interested in the job.
“Let’s put it this way: If Mark Mazzoleni were interested in talking to John Riley, John Riley would be interested in talking to Mark Mazzoleni.”
In addition to his work for USA Hockey as associate director for player development in the Atlantic District, Riley recently became head hockey coach at Brunswick School in Greenwich, Conn. He’s also a part-time scout for USA Hockey’s Under-17 National Team, meaning he already has many of the contacts necessary to be an effective college recruiter.
Another strong aspect of Riley’s candidacy is his familiarity with Harvard’s roster. He coached seniors Rob Fried, Tyler Kolarik and Dennis Packard, sophomore Peter Hafner and freshman Steve Mandes in USA Hockey tournaments.
Riley even taught All-American defenseman Noah Welch when the latter was a seventh-grader at Catholic Memorial in West Roxbury.
“I’d probably be pretty comfortable walking into that locker room,” Riley said.
US Hockey Report cited Providence assistant Rick Bennett as a candidate, but Bennett told The Crimson this week that he was not interested in leaving his alma mater.
New Hampshire associate head coach Scott Borek, who almost left a Division I head coaching job at Lake Superior State to become a Harvard assistant in 1999, and Joe Bonnett, Mazzoleni’s top assistant when he coached at Miami (Ohio), also said they are not candidates.
Mercyhurst assistant and recruiting coordinator Dave Smith, another of Mazzoleni’s assistants at Miami, declined to comment for this story.
With the hiring of John Micheletto at Vermont a near-certainty, four Division I assistant coaching vacancies remain: two that Leaman must fill at Union, Micheletto’s vacated post at Notre Dame, and Harvard’s.
Meanwhile, Mazzoleni said volunteer assistant coach Bruce Irving, who worked with the varsity goalies and coached the junior varsity team last season, would return for another year in the same capacity.
“Bruce is an established businessman here, but he just loves to coach,” Mazzoleni said. “I think he’s a tremendous asset to our program.”
—Staff writer Jon P. Morosi can be reached at email@example.com.
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