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Concord’s Pat Norton named men’s hockey head coach at Tufts



Last modified: Thursday, August 27, 2015
He’s a bit like Dunc Walsh, Tom Walton and Vic Stanfield, his hockey coaches at Concord High in the late 1980s. He’s a bit like Dick Umile, the head bench man at the University of New Hampshire and the handful of assistants who were there during his playing days in the early- to mid-’90s. He’s more than a bit like Mike McShane, the first head coach to bring him onto his staff at Norwich University. And the list goes on and on.

Taking a little something from most all the men he played for or coached with, Pat Norton has molded himself into a top-tier coach in his own right. And earlier this week, after spending the last 11 years guiding the Tilton School program, Norton landed his first collegiate head coaching job when he was hired to take over at Tufts University.

“I’ve been really happy at Tilton, and said the only opportunity to leave would be for a job I felt like I could really sink my teeth into, to come into a program at a good time and have the opportunity to establish the program for an extended amount of time,” Norton said.

“When I saw that Tufts became available … it’s a NESCAC school, one of the strongest academic institutions in the country. It might be one of those rare opportunities. I thought I should put my hat in the ring and give it a shot.”

Norton comes by coaching naturally. His father, Bob, was a former assistant at UNH for both hockey and football and spent decades in the coaching ranks while also making a name for himself in the broadcast booth.

“I’m not surprised he got into coaching. It’s in the genes,” said Walsh, Concord’s longtime head coach and an assistant when Pat played for the Tide. “He wasn’t the most skilled guy, but he was always a kid who knew the game. He was a smart player, did all the little things, and Norty was always one of the hardest workers.”

After graduating from Concord High in 1990, Norton’s passion for the game took him for a post-grad year at Northfield Mount Hermon, where Chris Serino was head coach. When Serino was hired as associate head coach to Umile that spring, he convinced Norton that UNH offered a great opportunity to play as a walk-on.

“I definitely had some doubts and questions whether I’d be able to compete at that level,” Norton said, “but I figured if I wasn’t successful, I could transfer to a Division III school after I’d given it a shot.”

Playing time didn’t come easily, but Norton stuck it out, and his workmanlike approach on the ice endeared him to Umile and his staff. “Coach Umile was always supportive and positive. … And even though I didn’t play a lot, I always felt appreciated for my work ethic and effort on the ice.”

After graduation in 1996, Norton landed his first coaching job at Norwich as an assistant to McShane (a former teammate of Umile’s a UNH). In his four years there, Norton was heavily involved in recruiting – “I spent 21 (straight) days in Saskatchewan. Coach McShane said find me the best players you can find in Saskatchewan,” Norton said. – as well as practices, strategies, working with the defense and personnel decisions.

“The opportunity to work with and be mentored by a guy who’s among the winningest coaches in college hockey, Divisions I and III combined,” Norton said. “It’s amazing how many things I got from or learned from Coach McShane. … I was able to see it from the other side, not as a player, his philosophies on recruiting, practice level and pace, and competition level in practice.”

Norton was part of Norwich’s NCAA Division III national championship in 2000 before moving on to Division I as an assistant at Vermont for three seasons and Northeastern for one, all the while building his coaching acumen and résumé and making contacts across North America. When Tilton School came calling in 2004, Norton jumped at the chance to take the reins for the first time.

“It was a time when I was ready to get off the road, not travel as much,” Norton said of the grind of recruiting. “I picked some former coaches’ brains and they said it was a great opportunity to get experience as a head coach and have some stability.”

That stability brought Tilton a pair of Lakes Region championships as well as three appearances in the New England Small School final four under Norton. And it also earned Norton the opportunity to take over the program at Tufts, where he inherits a team that went 9-15-2 last season, but turned it on late to advance to the NESCAC semifinals, beating eventual D-III national champion Trinity in the conference quarterfinals.

“It’s a great opportunity to take over a program that’s already got a solid base and a solid core group of players,” Norton said. “I think they can be successful and competitive.”



(Sandy Smith can be reached at 369-3339 or ssmith@cmonitor.com.)