By Parker Wheeler, Voice of the Wildcats
Dick Umile finished his 25th season at the helm of the Wildcat Hockey team last weekend after a Hockey East semifinal defeat at the hands of the BU Terriers. He holds a 541-294-95 record, has two Hockey East titles and has never won a national championship; but for Umile, it’s all about the journey.
As Umile enters his 26th season as head coach, it raises the question of how much longer the Umile era will last. But Umile knows he still has some time.
“I’ve got a few more years left, I’m getting my contract and then I’ll make my decision,” he said. “Hopefully a couple more years here, but I still feel like I’m as excited on the bench every season as I was 20 years ago.”
With so much success and consistency, Umile essentially has his job until he is ready to step away.
“He has enough gas in the tank. He’s hungry and has plenty of energy,” UNH athletic director Marty Scarano said. “I know when he’s ready and can’t give it 100 percent anymore he will let us know.”
Not only do the number of playoff appearances backup the case for Umile as a great coach, but also it’s what he does behind the scenes that matters the most to him, the university and his athletes.
“I think the secret is he’s loyal to them the rest of their lives, and their future even outside of hockey,” Scarano said. “He probably gets the greatest gratification when players come back and see him.”
Even his athletes acknowledge the amount he cares about coaching them and being someone important in their lives.
“He’s a guy I’ll always look up to,” senior captain Matt Willows said. “He taught me if you want to accomplish something you have to set your mind to it; whether it’s on or off the ice he showed me that hard work pays off.”
This past season was a tough one for Umile and the Wildcats. Between the distraction of losing his starting goalie before the season started, 11 freshman and plenty of injuries it was a dreadful start and they found themselves with a record of 5-11-1 on New Years Eve.
However, with the help of incoming freshman goaltender Danny Tirone, who arrived on campus at the start of the second semester, and the experience of Umile and his coaching staff the Wildcats were able to salvage the season and in the end, battle for a Hockey East title and finished with a record of 19-19-2
“He never doubted us once this season, every week we just went back to the drawing board,” Willows said, “He always pushes us and really never gives up on us.”
In his 25th year, he was able to mold a team made up of a majority of freshmen and turn them into a championship contender. It’s these types of performances from Umile that make him one of the best in the business.
During a game, you’ll typically find Umile standing and watching over his players with his arms crossed and a stern look on his face, leaning over shoulders and feeding his players information throughout the game. By the sounds of it, Umile is always watching over his players, even after they depart from UNH.
“He teaches us to do things well and do it successfully, but if you’re not going to do it with a good heart or good intentions then why do it?” Junior defensemen Harry Quast said.
“I like to think of myself as a ‘players’ coach.’” Umile said. “I don’t consider myself some guru of x’s and o’s.”
Eighteen times in 25 years, Umile has brought his team to the NCAA tournament and has four Frozen Four appearances, but the national championship has eluded Umile and his teams, including an overtime loss in the 1999 championship game to Hockey East rival University of Maine.
“When it’s time, I’ll deal with the fact that we’ve never won a national championship; now hopefully that will still happen but if it doesn’t, it doesn’t take anything away from the journey,” Umile said.
“The journey has been incredible, whether we talk about some of the great moments in coaching, but it’s the players that I’ve had the opportunity to coach that have remained personal friends and you know their families and go to weddings; that’s what it’s all about, being apart of it is pretty special.”
Scarano doesn’t think Umile is fazed by not having a championship on his resume.
“I don’t get the sense he’s haunted be that. He hates losing. He wants to win, that’s what really drives him,” he said.
With or without the national championship banner hanging in the Whittemore Center, Umile has been an integral part of what UNH hockey is today. From his playing days in 1968-72 to becoming the head coach in 1990 and all the years since, Umile has created a legacy for himself like no other.