Champions of the future
Coach Brian Durocher has his eyes on the prize (part three of three)
On March 25, 1978, BU men’s hockey cocaptain Brian Durocher skated around the Providence Civic Center holding the national championship trophy high. Now he dreams of getting his hands on another prize: the women’s championship.
But Durocher (SED’78), the coach of the women’s hockey Terriers, knows such an accomplishment is unlikely in the near future. After all, this is his team’s first year of varsity status. “I expect to make a real impact in Hockey East—and, I hope, nationally—by the end of my fourth year,” he says. That’s when the team will have the maximum 18 scholarships allowed under NCAA rules.
In the meantime, with five scholarship players this year, success will be a building process, and the wins won’t come easily at first. Durocher is a patient man, however. And patience—along with perseverance—brings rewards.
When Durocher was a Longmeadow (Mass.) High School goaltender, BU coach Jack Parker wanted him to be a Terrier, but told him he couldn’t promise how much he’d play. Nonetheless, Durocher took Parker (SMG’68, Hon.’97) up on his offer. As a freshman he compiled a 17-2-1 record, and BU took a trip to the Final Four. The next season he alternated starts with Pat Devlin (SED’76,’84). When BU played Minnesota in that year’s NCAA semifinals, Parker opted to start Durocher in goal, but the Terriers lost a heartbreaker when the Golden Gophers erased a 2-1 deficit in the third period to win, 4-2.
The following year, BU returned to the semifinals, but future Olympic hero Jim Craig (SED’79) got the nod in net against Michigan. There was more heartbreak for BU: on the power play, with a minute left and down a goal, Parker pulled Craig for an extra attacker—who left the bench too early. The Terriers were penalized for too many men on the ice and lost, 6-4.
In the 1977-78 season Durocher split goaltending duties with Craig. When BU made the NCAA Final Four again, Durocher had an impressive 14-2 record. But Craig was a perfect 14-0, so Parker went with the hotter goaltender. Craig ended up 16-0, and BU had the national title. Durocher says he wasn’t beside himself when Parker gave Craig the final two starts. “Jim was sharper than I was,” he says. “It was a great decision by Jack, and it got us that championship. It was a special year, and we finally won it after going to the Final Four the previous three seasons.”
Coaching career begins
In 1980, after two years as an assistant coach at American International College in Springfield, Mass., Durocher returned to BU as an assistant coach and goaltenders coach. In 1985, he left to join the staff of Colgate University. In addition to coaching responsibilities, he was also Colgate’s primary recruiter, responsible for attracting the players who led the Red Raiders to the 1990 NCAA title game. In the tournament semifinals, Colgate beat BU, 3-2.
In December 1991, following the sudden death of head coach Terry Slater, Durocher was named Colgate’s interim head coach, a position he held through the end of the season. The following year, however, Colgate gave the job to Don Vaughan, an assistant coach at St. Lawrence University. Durocher was disappointed, to say the least. Colgate had compiled a 136-79-14 in his six years there. “At the time, I really felt it was my job,” says Durocher. “Maybe they wanted a new influence. Maybe I wasn’t the right guy. Anyway, it didn’t work out, and I almost got out of hockey.”
But Brown University coach Bob Gaudet (now Dartmouth’s head coach) hired Durocher as an assistant coach, and he stayed for four years before returning to BU in 1996 as associate head coach and recruiting coordinator. Since his second Commonwealth Avenue homecoming, he has won the 2001 American Hockey Coaches Association Terry Flanagan Award, recognizing a career body of work by an assistant collegiate coach, and the 2003 Aflac National Assistant Coach of the Year.
This year Durocher finally got his head coaching job. He relishes the challenge of starting a team from ground zero. He’s pleased that the women Terriers have their own venue in Walter Brown Arena, since their male counterparts moved to the new Agganis Arena last year. “There are only a couple of women’s teams that have their own rinks—Minnesota and Ohio State,” says Durocher.
On the road recruiting
Assembling a team plays to one of Durocher’s strengths: recruiting. And for more than a year he’s been constantly on the road doing just that, visiting players in places like Anoka, Minn., and Linkoping, Sweden, not to mention swinging through Canada. But last December he was worried that he was going to have less than half of the 25-woman roster solidified by May. Fortunately, during the month of April he was able to fill in the blanks. One of his selling points was that the program’s building process isn’t going to be a decade-long affair. “He told us that in three or four years we will be national contenders,” says center Gina Kearns (CAS’09), a scholarship player from Norwood, Pa. “We’ll struggle for the first couple of years, but we’ll build a solid team.”
Durocher says that seeking women’s hockey players has some similarities to the process of recruiting men. “In New England, prep schools pretty much dominate the talent,” he says. “In the Minnesota area, the best players play for the public high schools, and in Canada they play for the junior hockey teams rather than for high schools.”
Durocher also has experience coaching at women’s hockey camps. In Lake Placid, N.Y., he trained the country’s best 18- and 19-year-olds, some of whom went on to the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. “There are a lot of parallels in both men’s and women’s hockey,” he says, “but my experience at the women’s hockey camps in Lake Placid didn’t involve building a team, getting players to bond, and experiencing the roller-coaster of emotion that takes place during a long season.”
Still, he has been coaching and recruiting men’s players for nearly 30 years—with demonstrable success. “I think this is an ideal situation for Brian,” says athletic director Mike Lynch. “Not many hockey coaches have a chance to start a program from scratch. Many times, when a coach comes to a team, he starts with preconceived notions. A new coach is sometimes facing a program that is going in a certain direction—and sometimes he has to change that direction. But Brian gets a chance to come in fresh and do it the way he wants it done, with the support of the administration.”
Durocher may not get his hands on that NCAA championship trophy for a while. But as a head coach, he does get to mold a team—possibly into a contender when this year’s freshmen are upperclassmen.
“He’s a well-respected coach, and we’re delighted that he took the job,” says Lynch. “Our women’s hockey program is in infancy mode, but with Brian coaching, it won’t be for long.”