New era: Mike Souza begins tenure as head coach of UNH hockey

  • UNH Athletic Director Marty Scarano (center) and Associate Athletic Director for Communications Mike Murphy (right) listen as Mike Souza, the new head coach of the men’s hockey team, discusses his vision of the future of the program on Wednesday in Durham. Souza replaces Dick Umile after 28 years at the helm. CHINA WONG / UNH Athletics

  • Mike Souza was introduced as the new head coach of the University of New Hampshire men’s hockey team during a press conference Wednesday in Durham. CHINA WONG / UNH Athletics

Monitor staff
Published: 3/15/2018 12:12:42 AM

DURHAM – Mike Souza produced one of the most unforgettable moments in UNH hockey history when he scored the tying goal that forced overtime against Maine in the 1999 national championship game.

Almost 20 years later, Souza is the new head hockey coach for his alma mater and hopes to bring the program back to the national stage.

He shared his vision of the program’s future before a group of UNH hockey alumni, supporters, family and media at the Whittemore Center on Wednesday.

“All I know about this program is excellence from my time being here – the building being filled, us winning hockey games,” Souza said. “I want our players to experience those same things.”

Dick Umile, who built the program into a national contender in the late 1990s and 2000s, retired after 28 years coaching the team.

Souza became the heir apparent when Umile agreed to a three-year contract extension in 2015 and hired Souza as an associate head coach. Since then, the two have worked closely in progressing toward this transition.

UNH athletic director Marty Scarano is generally skeptical of transition processes like this, but he expressed that the relationship between Souza and Umile, and their long history going back to Souza’s playing days, makes this a unique situation.

He added that a coach-in-waiting transition wouldn’t have been done for any prospective head coach other than Souza.

“I don’t, ironically, think transition plans are a good thing most of the time, but I think it’s going to prove to be successful in our case,” Scarano said. “I think the three years Mike spent here, he got up to speed with us. He’s hit the ground running. … He is UNH. That’s going to give him a great advantage.”

Souza has played a major role in UNH’s recruiting since returning to the program. On the ice, he worked with the defensemen and coached the power play.

Recruitment is the lifeblood of the college game, and Souza has spent the last seven years focused on building relationships across country and internationally.

“In today’s hockey, (recruiting) is almost everything,” Scarano said. “You can be the best coach in the nation, (but) if you don’t have the talent, you’re not going to win enough games.”

Scarano described Souza as having a blend of “old-school” and “new-wave” coaching styles. As for what’s new, Scarano emphasized the recruitment angle again and was blunt about the reality of recruiting players.

“In his new-wave approach, he’s really tied in to the NHL and agents and all of those things,” Scarano said. “And while collegiately you say you don’t necessarily like that, that’s the game. You have to be tied into the talent as people at the highest level see it and he is. I think that’s going to bear fruit for us going forward.”

The Wildcats have won just 36 games in the last three seasons and finished last in Hockey East this year. They were swept from the Hockey East Tournament by Maine in the first round.

Souza brushed off the term “rebuild” when a reporter asked what needs to change to bring the program back to a place where it is contending for conference and national titles.

“I’m not too concerned with what went on this year,” Souza said. “I think the nucleus of our group is strong and excited to get working out this week and get after it. … There’s a lot to be optimistic about. But I’m also a realist and I understand that those words are hollow unless we win hockey games.”

Souza, who turned 40 in January, started his coaching career as an assistant at Brown from 2011 to 2013 under coach Brett Whittet. He was hired onto Mike Cavanaugh’s staff at the University of Connecticut in 2013 where he focused on coaching the power play and recruiting.

“No one can ever replace Dick Umile, but the University of New Hampshire made an excellent hire in Mike Souza,” Cavanaugh said. “Mike’s affection for the university and the hockey program is commensurate with coach Umile’s. I’m very confident Mike will lead the program with competence and professionalism that will make the university and its alumni proud.”

Souza, a Wakefield, Mass., native, was part of the most successful class of players to come through UNH, reaching the Frozen Four in 1998 and the national championship game in 1999. He finished his UNH career with 156 points in as many games with 66 goals and 90 assists.

Drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks with the 67th pick in the 1997 NHL draft, Souza played five years in the AHL and six years in Europe. He played three seasons for the Italian national team, which is where he began to consider a life in coaching.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do post-hockey,” Souza said. “The longer I played, especially playing on the Italian national team for Rick Cornacchia, he had a lot of influence on me wanting to coach.”

Souza likely won’t be the last coach to get a new role at UNH this offseason. A replacement will have to be hired to fill Souza’s associate head coach position.

That process is already underway, and Souza expects a hire will be made “sooner than later.”

“Thinking about this for three years, there’s some people in mind,” he said.

UNH’s other associate head coach, Glenn Stewart – another tireless recruiter for the Wildcats – is expected to remain on the staff. Souza hopes to have him back but voiced his support for Stewart if he pursues the coaching vacancy at Merrimack.

News broke earlier this week that Merrimack was letting go of 13-year head coach Mark Dennehy.

“I want Glenn here,” Souza said. “I hope he aspires to look at the Merrimack job. I’d love to see him get a head coaching job.”

(Nick Stoico can be reached at nstoico@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @NickStoico.)



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