Tim Army and Greg Cronin bring similar backgrounds,
and similar passions, to their tasks at Providence and Northeastern
Army (above) and Greg Cronin (below) were introduced at Providence
and Northeastern, respectively, within two months of each other
The second Monday
of February fell during a mini-vacation for Greg Cronin –
the AHL All-Star Break – but as he retreated to his home in
Scarborough, Maine, he couldn’t escape hockey. The Beanpot
final had him riveted.
Just a few miles
away, in the same Southern Maine town, Tim Army was sitting with
his sons, Derek and Travis, also watching Boston University battle
Northeastern. As the game stretched into overtime, neither Cronin
nor Army was entertaining thoughts of leaving their AHL jobs to
coach college hockey. In fact, Army still didn’t see it as
a possibility as recently as April, when he e-mailed Cronin to congratulate
his colleague and part-time neighbor on being hired as Northeastern’s
new head coach.
Two months later
Army joined Cronin in Hockey East, as Providence’s head coach,
and Cronin followed up with a congratulatory phone call.
Now Hockey East
enters 2005-06 with two talented new coaches who owned successful
professional careers and were a heartbeat away from NHL head coaching
jobs. Their decision to step behind college benches speaks volumes
about their values and the college game as a whole.
Army and Cronin
are part of a small movement of coaches who have left the professional
ranks to join college hockey, a group that also included Jeff Jackson
(Notre Dame) this summer. Last year Ted Donato retired from the
NHL to take over at Harvard, and four years ago New York Rangers
assistant Walt Kyle returned to his alma mater, Northern Michigan.
for these moves may lie in the shortcomings of the professional
game as much as the strength of college hockey. Obviously job security
can be an issue at the NHL or AHL level, something perhaps magnified
by the 2004-05 NHL lockout. And despite the constant turnover, opportunities
at the pro level can be limited. Only one coach in the last several
years has moved from college hockey to the NHL (North Dakota’s
But Army and
Cronin – who spent the last eight and seven years, respectively,
working for the same NHL organizations – are quick to cite
the benefits of college coaching rather than any disappointment
with the pros.
looking forward to more of the human side of coaching,” Cronin
said. “Let’s face it, this is a business at the professional
level. In college, you have an opportunity to have a broader impact
in a player’s life. You get to work with a kid for four years.”
Army looks forward
to creating a similar type of atmosphere at Providence.
kids have a lot on their plate,” he said. “The best
part of their day has to be when they come to Schneider Arena. I
want to create that type of culture, all within the environment
of trying to improve each day.”
For both Army
and Cronin – like Donato and Kyle previously, and before them,
Michigan’s Red Berenson and others – an emotional tie
played a role in their moves. Army and Cronin’s fathers were
captains at Providence and Northeastern, respectively; Army was
the Friars’ captain as a senior. While Cronin didn’t
attend Northeastern – he played at Colby College in Maine
– his ties to the school run deep through his father, uncle,
In a long conversation
with Army, the subject never strays far from his passion for the
the only college job I would want,” he said. “I have
such a connection to the school and the hockey program. I believe
so much in the fabric of the college. When I speak about the school,
I’ll speak from the heart.”
coach in Portland
coach in Bridgeport
coach, Washington and Anaheim
coach, N.Y. Islanders
coach, Maine and Colo. College
'53 Providence captain
'59 Northeastern captain
surprising, then, to hear both Army and Cronin say they had a “gut
feeling” or an “instinct” to accept their new
jobs. And it doesn’t bother either of them that some people
might see their moves as a step down to coaching less talented players
at a lower level.
Both plan to
use their experience in the professional ranks extensively in both
recruiting and coaching college players. Who better to help you
reach the NHL, after all, than someone who has coached at that level?
kids come here to develop to become NHL players,” said Army.
“I’ve spent nine years as an NHL coach and three years
as an AHL coach, and we will utilize that knowledge to help them
get there. We want to provide an atmosphere that allows them to
achieve that kind of success, both personally and as a team.”
not alone on his staff when it comes to professional experience.
Assistant coach Gene Reilly has coached in the AHL, assistant Brendan
Walsh just retired from the AHL, and volunteer assistant Joe Sacco
is an NHL veteran.
guy wants to play in the NHL, we have the credentials with our staff
that are very unique and are going to help him get there,”
he said. “People develop players. People develop people. Facilities
more, Cronin believes that Northeastern can offer its players a
taste of the NHL, and it goes back to that game he watched in Scarborough
BU, BC, Harvard and Northeastern are the only schools that have
a pro-like opportunity and that is the Beanpot,” he said.
“The players who come here will get a real opportunity to
see what it’s like to play in the NHL, with the media, the
crowd, and the arena.”
And while, at
the time, college coaching wasn’t on Cronin’s radar,
he couldn’t help but get caught up in the excitement.
such an exciting game, such an awesome game to watch,” he
recalled. “The energy in the arena really came through, even
on the broadcast. I remember thinking, ‘What a great event
to be a part of.’”
get that opportunity next February, and before that, he’ll
face his friend, Scarborough neighbor and old AHL rival, Army. That,
too, should be a great event to be a part of.
this to a friend
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