by Gary Samson
By Stephen Hardy
f you ask in hockey circles, "What's so special about the Wildcats," nine times out of 10 the first response will be, "Tradition." Ask what makes up that tradition, and you'll hear: "Blue and white ... exciting ... winning ... good coaching ... consistency ... great fans." Many universities could make similar claims about their teams, but only if they were talking about men's hockey. What really makes Wildcat hockey so special is the extraordinary marriage of men's and women's hockey. It is a tradition of two programs with one spirit, one brand.
And what are the key elements of the Wildcat hockey brand? The first would be continuity in coaching. Dynasties are built through the patient application of consistent principles, which does not exist when coaches continually move on. Stability has been the hallmark of the UNH bench. The main figure on the men's side has been Charlie Holt, who arrived in 1968 to orchestrate the first "golden age." Since Holt's retirement in 1986, the men's coach has been either a Holt assistant (Bob Kullen '78G and Dave O'Connor) or a Holt player (Dick Umile '72). The women's team has had only two head coaches--Russ McCurdy (1978-1992) and Karen Kay (1992 to date).
While all of these coaches brought unique traits to the bench, they have shared a common vision, clearly expressed by both Umile and Kay in recent conversations. "Discipline is first," they both quickly noted, "on and off the ice. Commitment and loyalty are next." "And teamwork," Umile added, "the team always comes before the individual."
You can add another trademark--an up-tempo pace, with lots of scoring. Goal tending and defense may win championships, but only if someone puts the puck in the net. Wildcat hockey means goals, goals, goals. This part of the tradition crystallized in the 1970s, with Louis Frigon '71, Cliff Cox '76 and Ralph Cox '79, Gordie Clark '74, Jamie Hislop '76 and Bobby Gould '79. The men's team scored 245 goals in 1976-77--still a record. Not to be outdone, the following year the women's varsity was born, led by the "GAS" (goal a shift) line of Melissa White-Ellis '79, Kathy Bryant '81 and Gail Griffith '80. And the goals kept coming on both teams as the names changed. For every Mark Mowers '98 or Jason Krog '99, there is a Karyn Bye '93 or a Carisa Zaban '00.
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