For some coaches, reaching 1,000 games behind the bench could be considered a milestone. But Meadville, Pennsylvania, boys hockey coach Jamie Plunkett passed that years ago. Now he’s closing in on 1,000 wins.
“I don’t talk much about it,” Plunkett said. “My daughters bring it up more than anybody else.”
His team was just two wins shy of the milestone headed into this weekend. Plunkett, 61, has coached the Bulldogs for 31 years. He also works as an athletic trainer at Allegheny College.
He initially started coaching to reconnect with the game. He recalls his dad telling stories about the times Plunkett played as a youngster. His parents got up at five or six in the morning to take him to the local rink for games, where there were officials, parents in the scorers’ box to run the clock and parents coaching.
“He was always big about giving back to the game,” Plunkett said of his father. “’People did it for you.’
“I never forgot that, and one of the reasons I got into coaching, besides the love of the game, was to give back to the game.”
Plunkett, a Toronto native, played youth hockey in Toronto and Vancouver as well as some junior hockey in Ottawa. He also played freshman hockey at Cornell University. At a friend’s suggestion, he coached a youth hockey house league in 1980 in Ithaca, New York, before two seasons of junior varsity hockey at Cornell from 1981-83.
“It was around that time that I really started to enjoy the coaching part of it,” Plunkett said.
In 1983, he got his job at Allegheny College. “In a moment of weakness,” he coached the school’s club team. His run with the Meadville squad started when some people in town approached him asking if he’d coach. He accepted.
“I guess it is 31 years now,” Plunkett said. “I started out not really knowing what I was getting myself into and thought I would do it for a year or two.”
His teams have won eight state titles, including one right away in 1987. The Bulldog dynasty continued a few years later, when they were state champs for five straight years, from 1992-96.
“We’re the only Pennsylvania team ever to win five consecutive state titles,” Plunkett said. “That would probably be something I’m most proud of because it’s never been done before or since.”
Part of the success is how he got his nickname: “Chief.” People started calling him that because when his teams won state titles, they’d go through town on a fire truck, “and people would laugh and say that he’s been on the fire struck more than the chief,” said senior captain and four-year varsity player Jeffrey Millin.
Do something for three decades and it’s bound to be a different animal over time. It’s no different with Plunkett and hockey. He said he’s changed as the game has changed, establishing friendships with former Penguins Penguins coaches Barry Smith and “Badger” Bob Johnson to learn more about the game.
His assistant coach and former player, Kyle Waite, can attest to Plunkett’s ability to adapt, too, saying that Plunkett hasn’t let the game pass him by.
“I think the biggest thing that makes him good at what he does is he absolutely loves the game,” Waite said.
Hockey is a fast sport, but “Chief” can also break it down for the players, Millin said. Plunkett’s ability to read the game is unlike anything Millin has ever seen.
So what’s made his Meadville teams so successful? Well, a general uptick in area hockey interest after the Penguins drafted Mario Lemieux in 1984, for one, according to Plunkett.
As interest in the Penguins grew, so did the number of local rinks across the region, according to Plunkett. He came along when there was a very talented nucleus of freshman and sophomore players, resulting in those state titles.
“I was just very fortunate to walk into a good situation,” Plunkett said.
He also realized, as his daughters (now 31 and 27 years old) grew up, the positive or negative role a coach can have on athletes. Someone once told him that some of the most influential people in your lives will be parents, teachers and coaches.
“That’s something I try to remember, because what you say and do can have a lasting impact,” Plunkett said.
Millin has been through a couple of tough seasons as a freshman and sophomore with Plunkett and the Bulldogs. But Plunkett taught his team to never quit and is very personable with all of the players, Millin said.
“He’s really influenced me with not just hockey, but in life itself,” Millin said.
Getting back to those 1,000 wins, this year’s team made it the No. 1 goal to get him to the milestone. It’ll be special and a game the players can brag about when they’re older, Millin said.
Still, Millin knows his coach is pretty modest.
“Chief’s a quiet guy,” Millin said. “He’s not going to be one of those coaches who go around and tell everybody about it.”
Waite agreed. Few coaches in any sport have 1,000 wins, and not just that, Plunkett will have them all in the same program, Waite said.
“To be honest with you, I think it means more to him than he’ll ever say,” Waite said.
Plunkett didn’t really expect it, but coaching turned into a big part of his life, he said.
“It really has grown into something much bigger than I ever thought it would.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Long before Johnathan Morrison was the officiating advisory group leader for the International Paralympic Committee, he was a 30-something-year-old trying to find his way on the international circuit.
Little did Morrison know, a random phone call in October 2005 would change his life. He remembers it like it was yesterday. He had taken a puck to the face a month earlier and was still recovering from a broken cheekbone when Scott Brinkman gave him a ring.
As the officiating advisory group leader for the International Paralympic Committee at the time, Brinkman was inquiring to see if Morrison had any interest in officiating a three-team sled hockey tournament in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“He called and asked me if I wanted to get involved with the sport,” Morrison recalled. “Honestly, at that time I had never seen a game played. We were having this conversation about getting involved with the sport and he mentioned that there was an event in February 2006 that he wanted to send me to. It was kind of a chance for me to learn the ins and outs of the sport.”
Wait. There was more.
“He told me if I did good he would send me to the 2006 Paralympic Games in Torino,” Morrison said. “I had just moved to the Twin Cities and had just started working the WCHA and that would’ve been right in the middle of playoff time. I remember saying to Scott, ‘When exactly will I know if I’m going to go to Torino?’ I asked because I needed to tell my college supervisor that I was going to be gone for the playoffs. He goes, ‘Well, let me rephrase that. Congratulations. You’ve been selected to go to the 2006 Paralympic Games in Torino.’ I was like, ‘Oh crap. Here we go.’”
All of a sudden Morrison was on a crash course, trying to learn the ropes of sled hockey as fast as possible. He watched a bunch of DVDs to study the game as well as any YouTube clips he could get his hands on.
Then it was off to Colorado Springs without any sort of in-game experience.
“I got very lucky because the other individual that they sent to that event in Colorado Springs was a gentleman by the name of Scott McDonald,” Morrison said. “He had been around the sport for a long time and he basically taught me the game.”
While the differences were vast, especially considering Morrison had only ever worked with traditional hockey prior to that event, the biggest difference came down to positioning on the ice.
“Everything I knew about positioning basically got thrown out the window,” Morrison said. “You have to be on top of the play at all times because the penalties are much more subtle and much more difficult to see. You have a stick that’s only 100 centimeters long, so that hook is really hard to see.”
Besides that, Morrison also learned the hard way that certain plays look a heckuva lot different.
“A guy using his stick underneath his sled to try to shoot a puck in a motion for someone that hasn’t been around sled hockey looks a lot like he basically threw it with his hand,” Morrison said. “I remember I actually waved off a goal that I thought was put in with his hand and everybody else knew he put it in with his stick.”
That three-team sled hockey tournament, featuring the United States, Canada, and Germany, gave Morrison the confidence he needed heading into the 2006 Paralympic Games in Torino.
“I had just worked a bunch of games at a really high level,” Morrison said. “I was seeing the best players, so I felt good. When I actually got to the 2006 Paralympic Games in Torino it was one of those things where I had to step up and get better every game. There was no choice.”
For Morrison, the first game of the 2006 Paralympic Games in Torino was life-changing.
“When I was younger I was hoping to make the NHL (as an official),” Morrison said. “Once I was about 30 years old, I realized that it wasn’t going to happen, so I kind of switched mental gears and said, ‘OK. Let’s go the international route.’ Obviously the brass ring for the international route is the Olympics. That’s what I was pushing for. That’s what I thought I had my best shot at. Then all of a sudden I get this call that I am going to the Paralympics. It took my breath away. I had been working for something like that, and once it happened, all I wanted to do was get ready for it.”
Since then, Morrison has worked three more Paralympic Games (Vancouver, Sochi, and Pyeongchang) on top of handling his current role with the International Paralympic Committee.
In that position, Morrison works with the technical side of the sport, which basically focuses on our rulebooks, as well as the officiating development side of the sport, which essentially is a pathway that finds a way to get the most out of our officials. He also oversees the assigning of certain officials to certain tournaments
“I am looking for officials that have succeeded at some of the highest levels that show a passion for the sport,” Morrison said. “I’d say the passion for the sport is as important, if not more important, than what they have accomplished elsewhere. I don’t want the guy that calls me and is like, ‘Hey. I’m a good linesman. Can I go to the World Championships?’ Sorry. It doesn’t work that way. I want guys that actually love the sport.”
That became a focus based on his experiences with the sport over the better part of the last two decades. He has grown extremely passionate about it, and as the leader of the bunch, he wants every member of his officiating crews to feel the same way.
“I’ve been in this sport long enough and I know guys that have worked the Calder Cup and worked the Frozen Four that I could introduce them to sport the same way I was introduced and they’d do a good job,” Morrison said. “That said, I want that individual who is so passionate about the sport that they have taken a week out of their summer to come and train with us. I’m looking for someone who is passionate about the sport and I think we’ve done a good job with that so far.”
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