On top of his game
Reflecting on coach Coghlin’s milestone record
By Greg Bates
Ever since his first victory in November 1993 as the St. Norbert men’s hockey coach, Tim Coghlin has always been a humble leader.
He will deflect any win or honor to his players and fellow coaches.
When Coghlin picked up his 625th career victory on Nov. 19 — 29 years to the day of his first win — it was business as usual for the longtime coach.
It was just another win in his eyes. However, that’s the farthest from the truth.
Coghlin’s win total is the third best all-time in all divisions for coaches who have coached exclusively at one school, trailing only Jack Parker (894 wins at Boston University from 1974 to 2013) and Red Berenson (848 wins at Michigan from 1985 to 2017). Coghlin’s win total is also 11th-most all-time in all divisions of college hockey.
Ask any one of Coghlin’s current or former players and coaches, breaking the wins record is just a blip in the radar for him. He’s all about the team first and foremost.
“He’s much more eager to put that behind him and on to the next one instead of celebrating that,” St. Norbert men’s hockey associate head coach Ryan Petersen said. “The celebration should happen and it needs to happen because it’s such a great honor and a great record that he was able to obtain. A lot of those big moments in his life just being around him, he just reflects upon the people that have surrounded him and supported him throughout this process. He always puts the first pushback onto the players of that current group and then the founding members of St. Norbert hockey and what it is today.”
Petersen, who was a captain on St. Norbert’s 2008 national championship team and is in his second stint as a coach under Coghlin, said Green Knight players grabbed the game puck and presented it to Coghlin following the monumental victory.
Former Coghlin player and assistant coach Cory Borys knows how Coghlin always deflects anything that’s about him and makes it about others.
“That’s one of his awesome traits where he doesn’t want to take any of the credit, and he should be taking the majority of the credit,” Borys said. “It’s because of the game plans he puts together, it’s because of the players he brings in, it’s because of the coaches he’s hired. It’s everything. It all goes back to Tim. All of us that are successful here still living in the United States and married with kids, we all attribute that to him.”
Kyle Jones, the goaltender on the 2008 national title team, was thrilled when Coghlin broke the wins record.
“Just another accolade to an incredible career,” Jones said. “He’s one of the most decorated coaches in NCAA history and one of the most well-known. Real happy for him.”
Willingness to adapt
When a coach spends three decades in a program, that says a lot by itself.
Longevity is key to breaking records, but a coach also has to be successful. During his tenure, Coghlin has led St. Norbert to 12 Frozen Four appearances — which is second-most in Division III history — and five national championships. All those titles have come in the last 15 years.
Borys said Coghlin has been so successful as a coach because of his willingness to adapt throughout the years.
“We started off back so many years ago as a team that was big, we were rough, we were tumble. We were a physical presence, and that’s how we played,” said Borys, who was part of Coghlin’s first Northern Collegiate Hockey Association (NCHA) recruiting class in 1994. “Back then, he had to kind of go out of the U.S. to get players, because St. Norbert wasn’t known. He came up to western Canada and brought a lot of us in to play. Green Bay? Sure. What do I know about Green Bay? The Packers, that’s pretty much about it.
“We started then and started to build the program and as the team got better, the recruiting got better. It brought in more talent, brought in better players and now you can start attracting some of the more talented U.S. kids as well. The style of play adapts. Let’s get away from the lock it down, trap it up physical style and get more into a skill game. That’s all cycles and it’s just what the opponents are bringing and what everybody’s bringing and he adapts so well, so quickly in bringing in talent.”
Spencer Carbery, who played under Coghlin from 2003-06 and is now an assistant coach for the Toronto Maple Leafs, believes Coghlin has been successful as a coach because of consistency year after year.
“There’s a lot of things that go into it, but his standard and the thing that he preaches on a daily basis and the sort of core foundational things that he’s always talking about is something that never wavers,” Carbery said. “Yeah, there’s been a lot of good players and the recruiting that he’s done and the program speaks for itself, so with success comes a lot of players that want to play at your program. But the big thing that he’s done is just that level of consistency of a standard that’s expected no matter what the class, no matter what the year, it doesn’t waver.”
Peterson also points to Coghlin’s consistent approach every day to being key to his success.
“I think as we’re moving into a newer generation of athletes and young adults, he has had the ability to have a standard, a line in the sand and stay true to who he is as a person, first and foremost as a coach and obviously a mentor to young men,” Petersen said.
Jones has always been impressed that Coghlin took the hockey program and built it from the ground up.
“He’s been extremely loyal to the school and to the program and in turn they have as well,” Jones said. “But, obviously, the success that he’s had since the beginning is a big reason why he’s stuck around there as long as he has. He’s comfy where he is and he does a great job with the players that come through each year. Winning cures everything, even if you have some down seasons — he always finds a way to bring it back and turn it around.”
Coghlin’s impact with the St. Norbert men’s hockey program is evident by the home sheet of ice at the Cornerstone Community Center being named Tim Coghlin Rink in December 2021.
Same guy as Day 1
Jones came to St. Norbert in 2004 and got to see Coghlin go from a national runners-up coach to a national champion.
“I remember the first couple of years I was there, he was a little bit tougher on guys than he was the last two years,” Jones said. “I think that he’s changed and grown with this sport and grown with the way coaching has changed over the past 20-30 years. He’s been able to adjust and be able to do that and be someone who’s able to direct and learn the different types of players and the different types of personalities that come through each year and he’s able to coach every single type of person and make sure he’s doing his best for everybody.”
Winning the program’s first national championship in 2008 didn’t change Coghlin, noted his former players.
“I really, really don’t think so,” said Jones, who was named the Division III national player of the year as a senior in ’08. “I know it was a long time coming for him. He had been there a number of times even before I came to St. Norbert and then for my four years we went to the Frozen Four three times and couldn’t get over the hump until the third time. I think it only made him stronger, and that’s evidence by having a number of more national championships since then. As a person, I definitely don’t think it changed him. As a coach, I’m sure he adjusted his strategy and it’s made him even more successful.”
Connecting with his players
Another reason for Coghlin’ success at St. Norbert has been his ability to recruit well and connect with his players.
“Roby Gropp, our goaltender back when I played, said probably the best quote when someone asked him about Tim’s recruiting style. He goes, ‘He could sell a ketchup popsicle to a woman in white gloves,’” Borys recalled. “I think he understands people, and I think that’s the one trait a coach has to have. He’s got it and he’s probably got it better than anybody.”
The relationships he has with players helps with on- and off-ice chemistry.
Coghlin still holds lasting friendships with former players that he coached decades earlier.
“I will say this about Coach, and one of the things that I will be forever grateful, and I bet you there’s 100 at least young men that can tell a similar story of his expectations of the group and you individually was very high,” Carbery said. “But he also had your back and he really cared about our group and the individual players.”
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“There’s a lot of things that go into it, but his standard and the thing that he preaches on a daily basis and the sort of core foundational things that he’s always talking about is something that never wavers.” – Former Coghlin player Spencer Carbery, who is now an assistant coach for the Toronto Maple Leafs