Vermont has hired current Winnipeg Jets assistant coach Todd Woodcroft to fill its vacant head coach position, the school announced Wednesday night.
Woodcroft has been in the NHL for nearly 20 years in various roles, but has no prior collegiate experience, either as a player or a coach. He has also never been a head coach.
However, Woodcroft brings a lot of things to the table that motivated Vermont athletic director Jeff Schulman to give him a shot.
“Experiences in hockey at the highest level in NHL and internationally, as well as his personal integrity and strong desire to coach at the college level, made him stand out among an oustanding pool of candidates,” Schulman said. “Todd will bring fresh perspective to our program, to our student-athletes, and to our entire athletic department.
“His hockey knowledge, his communication skills, his ability to lead and develop players, and his passion for teaching the game, are truly exceptional.”
Basically a self-made coach, Woodcroft had been running a hockey school when he broke into the NHL as a video coach for the Minnesota Wild in 2000. He then scouted for Minnesota, Washington and Los Angeles in the NHL, winning a Stanley Cup with the Kings in 2012. Just before going to Winnipeg, Woodcroft spent three years in Calgary as the team’s Scouting Director, and he’s worked for various international organizations.
“For the past four years, I have been the luckiest coach in hockey. I’ve been surrounded by the best people and the best athletes in the world. I’ve created lifelong relationship with too many people to thank,” Woodcroft said of his time in Winnipeg, in a recorded message from Winnipeg on Thursday. “During this process, one of the best people I ever had the luck to meet in my life, (Jets) head coach Paul Maurice, gave me some sage advice: He said to make sure I interviewed the people that were interviewing me to see if it would be a good fit. I know in my heart that this felt right from the very beginning.
“What I’ve learned in my 20 years of professional experience is that what I do is more important than what I say. So to the players, I want you to know that this staff will be coaching a consistent message every day. We will be giving you every tool to succeed and play at the next level if that’s your goal. Our product on the ice will be a culmination of all we do every day. We will emphasize, celebrate and recruit character that competes. We will be unwavering in our dedicaton to excellence and making the alumni proud.”
Vermont’s job has been vacant since the season ended, with Kevin Sneddon having announced his retirement in January.
Woodcroft’s brother, Craig, starred at Colgate from 1987-91, before playing many years of pro hockey, in North America and Europe. He’s currently the head coach of Dynamo Minsk in the Russian League. Another brother, Jay, is head coach of the Edmonton Oilers’ AHL affiliate in Bakersfield.
“He’s really smart, details guy, progressive, energetic,” CBS Sports hockey analyst Dave Starman said about Woodcroft. “I love the guy as a coach, learned a ton from him in his presentations. Excellent teaching and communications skills.”
Two long-time NCAA assistants were the other finalists, sources told CHN — Northeastern’s Jerry Keefe and Massachusetts’ Ben Barr. Keefe, sources indicate, is one of the higher-paid assistant coaches in the nation and has had some assurances he is next in line to be head coach at Northeastern. Barr has been an assistant at Union, Providence and Western Michigan before UMass. Both are considered among the top recruiters in the sport, each helping lead programs to national prominance for the first time.
Vermont also spoke with numerous other people either with NCAA head coaching experience, NHL coaching experience, or both. Among them are current NHL assistants Dominique Ducharme (Montreal), who is a Vermont graduate and once coached the Canadian World Junior team, and Greg Brown (NY Rangers), the former long-time assistant at Boston College. Ron Rolston, who was a head coach in the NHL and now is as assistant at Providence, and American International head coach Eric Lang, were also very much in the mix until late.
Former Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy, now head coach of New Jersey’s AHL affiliate in Binghamton, and former Miami coach Rico Blasi, also had discussions with Vermont at some point.
And according to multiple sources, former Vermont star and NHL Hall of Famer Martin St. Louis had a lot of influence on the discussion, at one point pushing for former linemate Eric Perrin to be part of the coaching staff. He was also pushing Vermont to give strong consideration to former Vermont assistant and Brown head coach Roger Grillo, who has been working with USA Hockey for the last decade.
St. Louis’ son, Ryan, was recruited by Keefe at Northeastern.
Ultimately, Schulman foresaked all of that — the top recruiting background, the head coaching experience, the Vermont and Hockey East connections — for the unproven (at least to the NCAA) Woodcroft.