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Hockey coaches celebrate Concord native Bob Norton’s love of the game

  • Concord native Bob Norton will receive the Jim Fullerton Award from the American Hockey Coaches Association on Wednesday night in Naples, Fla. Norton made his name as an assistant coach at UNH before becoming a color analyst on NESN and ESPN. Courtesy / UNH Athletics

  • Concord native Bob Norton (right) is joined by former UNH hockey coach Charlie Holt (far left), former players Cliff Cox (second from left) and Jamie Hislop (second from right). Norton will receive the Jim Fullerton Award from the American Hockey Coaches Association on Wednesday night. Courtesy / UNH Athletics

UNH Insider
Published: 4/30/2019 3:53:36 PM

He came to the University of New Hampshire in 1970 as a baseball and football guy and left a half a dozen years later as a hockey guy.

To be sure, Bob Norton did more than his share to boost UNH football in his time in Durham, but it was working as an assistant coach with Charlie Holt – and later as a television color analyst on NESN and ESPN among other outlets – where he made his hockey name.

Wednesday night, Concord native Bob Norton will be celebrated for his support and love of college hockey when he receives a major award of the American Hockey Coaches Association, the Jim Fullerton Award, at the group’s 2019 convention in Naples, Fla.

“He’s well deserving of that award for all he’s done for college hockey and for that matter for his recognition of high school and prep school and junior hockey as a broadcaster,” longtime UNH coach Dick Umile said. “He’d talk about where a guy came from and who coached him. He was like the Doc Emrick of the Northeast. He’s a pretty special person. A wonderful person, great guy.”

The late Jim Fullerton coached at Brown University and was a spiritual leader of the ACHA, according to the organization’s press release announcing the award: “This award recognizes an individual who loves the purity of our sport,” the release reads. “Whether a coach, administrator, trainer, official, journalist or simply a fan, the recipient exemplifies Jim Fullerton, who gave as much as he received and never stopped caring about the direction in which our game was heading.”

The hometown and home coach mentions were a Norton trademark.

“I knew Coach Norton first as a young person growing up in Greater Boston, listening to him as the color guy on the NESN broadcasts,” UNH hockey coach Mike Souza said. “You’d run into him in various circles. When I was at Wakefield High, he was the principal at Woburn High School. On NESN, I just remember him talking about a kid being from Chilliwack, B.C. or from Flin Flon, Manitoba. Those places were as foreign as Mars and Venus when you’re a kid growing up.”

Not all were fans of the hometown shout-outs.

“I did a lot of work for ESPN over the years and they always tried to change me,” Norton said. “They wanted me to talk about the pro teams that had drafted players. I never did that. I always talked about where they played high school hockey and who their coach was. I always thought that was an important part of what I did. ... I had a lot of respect for my coaches and I think it meant a lot to coaches to have their name mentioned and that someone recognized their contribution to a kid’s growth.”

Norton played baseball and football at Rutgers University and came to UNH as primarily a football coach. He had played hockey as a freshman in high school and on the club team at Rutgers and a piece of his assistant football coach job with the Wildcats included helping head coach Charlie Holt with the hockey team.

“The only thing they said about that was that the coach couldn’t dislike you,” Norton said.

He did that one better.

“Coach Holt and I hit it off right away,” Norton said.

Norton specialized in recruiting and Holt focused on coaching and with the help of another assistant, Dave O’Connor, they built the program into an ECAC powerhouse.

“He’s great with stories and he remembered everybody,” said Umile, who was a young player at UNH when Norton arrived and later got his first job in coaching thanks to an assist from Norton. “He was selling UNH and selling coach Holt and he was real good at it. With him and coach Holt and Dave O’Connor they had a great trio of coaches and they were bringing in unbelievable players.”

Gordie Clark. Bobby Miller. Jamie Hislop. Ralph Cox. Cliff Cox. Bobby Gould. Rod Langway, who starred in football and hockey and went on to win a couple of Norris Trophy’s as the NHL’s top defenseman.

“His legacy is marked with so many great players,” Souza said. “The list goes on and on.”

Norton left UNH after the 1975-76 season for the field of education.

“I loved coaching, but I found something I liked better,” Norton said.

He put his masters in education to use first as an assistant principal at Merrimack Valley High School in Penacook and more than 30 years later retired after stops as principal at Belmont High School and then 16 years at Woburn High School in Massachusetts.

“I enjoyed it as much the last day as principal in 2009 as the first day in 1976,” Norton said.

Along the way, he and his wife, Ellen, based themselves out of Concord and he was able to coach his boys – Pat, Ryan and Brendan, who all played college hockey – in youth hockey and build his reputation as a hockey broadcaster, starting when he and Jim Jeannotte worked UNH games on Channel 11.

Norton worked with Sean McDonough in the early days of Hockey East and later with the likes of Bob Kurtz, Gary Thorne, Don Orsillo, Tom Caron and even Fred Cusick on Beanpot hockey games.

“Looking back on it, I got to work with some of the best in the business,” Norton said. “I was thrilled to get a chance to work with those kinds of people.”

He was an analyst during his son Pat’s first UNH game at Boston University and did the last Wildcat game at Snively Arena.

Norton worked 16 Hockey East tournaments and 15 Beanpot championships was on ESPN for nine Frozen Four broadcasts.

He lists Boston College’s Brian Leetch, Maine’s Paul Kariya and UNH’s Bobby Miller as three of the very best he ever saw play college hockey.

“There were a lot of great ones,” Norton said. “But they were in a different category.”

One of his best game memories came in his first year out of coaching at UNH while he was broadcasting an ECAC playoff game with Jeannotte in Snively Arena against Brown.

“We had had so much frustration in the first round with some of our great teams,” Norton said. “That year we beat Brown in overtime on a Dave Lumley goal. It was very emotional for me. It was a group of kids I had recruited and they finally got over the hump.”

Jeannotte raves about the job Norton did as an analyst, the excitement and knowledge he brought to the broadcast, the ease with which he could break a game down for the viewers and guide them through a replay.

And he remembers well that Lumley goal.

“Norton was so mesmerized,” Jeannotte said with a laugh. “He was a UNH coach that night. When he finally started to talk again, I said, ‘Welcome back to the game.’ ”

This week, more stories and memories will be tossed around when college hockey coaches gather in Florida for their meetings and conventions.

Norton will be front and center for his share of the stories.

“He’s a guy who is always passionate about UNH,” Souza said. “He’s passionate about hockey and hockey in particular in this area. He’s a guy who has left his mark on UNH forever.”

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