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Union’s Bench Boss Still Learning, Even After Title Run

08/04/2014, 4:30pm EDT
By USA Hockey

Q-and-A with Rick Bennett

Rick Bennett knows he can’t stop improving as a coach. Even with a 2014 NCAA national championship in hand, the Union bench boss believes there’s even more work ahead. How can the Dutchmen coaching staff keep the program on top?

“We have to keep learning,” said Bennett, a Springfield, Mass., native.

Growth and development are two words we often use with players, but they are just as important for coaches.

USA Hockey sat down with Bennett to discuss the importance of coaching education.

USA Hockey: Congratulations on your NCAA national championship. Surely, you must have it all figured out now. Who needs to keep learning when you’re a national champion?

Rick Bennett: Not quite! I think we’re all constantly learning, no matter what level you’re at. The minute you think you have everything figured out, that’s when I think you’re going to find trouble. We’re always learning and trying to find new ways to improve.

USA Hockey: What methods do you recommend for youth hockey coaches to improve?

Rick Bennett: For youth coaches, just try to find clinics in your areas. Get registered, get signed up and go have some fun with it. There are plenty of clinics out there and USA Hockey does a phenomenal job with it. To get to any level, you have to work at the level that you’re currently at. Using these clinics is a key component to coach development. It’s a tremendous opportunity.

USA Hockey: What about coaches working at more advanced levels of hockey?

Rick Bennett: For the college guys, working USA Hockey summer clinics and festivals is a great opportunity to learn. I’ve personally found them very helpful to develop and become a head coach. It’s a rare development opportunity where you can work with your own team as a head coach. I really thought that was a big help.

USA Hockey: Who is your coaching mentor?

Rick Bennett: The one big mentor that I’ve always reached out to, ever since I was fortunate enough to get this position, was Joe Marsh (former St. Lawrence University coach). Every time I’ve talked to Joe, I’ve been given good advice. Some of the coaches that I have worked with in the past have been great as well, including Mike McShane (Bennett’s coach at Providence College when he was a player), Paul Pooley (former Providence head coach and current Notre Dame associate head coach), Nate Leaman (current Providence head coach and former Union head coach) and David Berard (new Holy Cross head coach and former Providence assistant).

USA Hockey: That’s definitely a strong list of resources. Some coaches might have better access to mentors than others. How does a coach go about finding a mentor?

Rick Bennett: Use the USA Hockey clinics. That’s a hidden benefit of attending those clinics. It’s not just top-level instruction; it’s top-level people. You get to interact with them and develop connections. Stay in touch with them and pick their brains when you can. That list and network can continue to grow.

USA Hockey: What about your coaching staff? How do you improve as a staff?

Rick Bennett: We’ve been together for three years. The one point I always try to get across is that we’re a staff. I know one guy has to have the title of head coach and those guys are assistants, but they don’t work for me. We work together. That, to me, is the most important thing about a staff. They speak their minds, and through that, we all become better. No one is afraid to step on anyone’s toes. This is how we constantly improve and tweak things for the betterment of our players. We’re always learning from each other.

USA Hockey: What are some things you learned in your NCAA championship-winning year?

Rick Bennett: I’ve been asked that a few times. I think letting our defensive core play a little more openly was big. At the beginning of the year, I thought our staff was right. I thought Joe Dumais, Jason Tapp and John Ronan, our volunteer coach, were right-on and I was the guy who was off. We needed to let the defensemen run a little bit more openly. That didn’t happen until the second half of the season.

USA Hockey: So you adapted midway through the season and ended up winning a national championship. Just goes to show the learning doesn’t stop when you’re behind the bench.

Rick Bennett: The learning never stops with us. It shouldn’t stop with anybody in any aspect of life, whether you’re on the bench, on the ice, in the classroom or anywhere else.

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