University of Denver coach Jim Montgomery was hired by the Dallas Stars last week, making him the fourth person to make the jump directly from a college head coaching job to an NHL head coaching job, following Ned Harkness, Bob Johnson, and Dave Hakstol. At this rate, he certainly won’t be the last one.
The Stars bringing Montgomery in––after he was the runner-up for the Florida Panthers’ job last year––is a testament to the job he has done with the Pioneers. In five seasons at the helm, Montgomery’s Denver teams won three NCHC tournaments, never missed the NCAA tournament and only lost once in the first round, and won the national title in 2017. Danton Heinen, Will Butcher, Henrik Borgström, Dylan Gambrell, Blake Hillman, and Troy Terry have all made it to the NHL, and there are sure to be many more to follow.
This of course puts the university’s athletic department in a position where they have to locate and hire a successor. The new coach will be under a lot of pressure to continue the on-ice success of Montgomery and George Gwozdecky before him, but the good news for the school is this job is one of the highest-profile positions in college hockey, and they will have no shortage of candidates to look at. While Montgomery himself has publicly stated who he hopes will be the next head coach of the Pioneers, the school would not be doing their due diligence if they just interviewed one candidate.
Jeff Cox of New England Hockey Journal tweeted out four names that Denver has expressed interest in, and I’m going to go through each of the candidates and share what I think the likelihood is that they get the job.
In addition to current assistant David Carle, Norm Bazin, Derek Lalonde and Steve Miller are names I'm hearing as candidates to replace Jim Montgomery at Denver.— Jeff Cox (@JeffCoxSports) May 9, 2018
From everything I’ve heard, the job should be David Carle’s to lose. Jim Montgomery himself was asked who should replace him, and he was adamant that it should be Carle. Carle is only 28, and would be the youngest head coach in college hockey if he is hired, but he has spent more time around the Denver program recently than pretty much anyone. The younger brother of Hobey Baker winner Matt, Carle is a graduate of the university, having spent his undergraduate years as a student assistant after his playing career was cut short due to a heart condition.
After his graduation in 2012, Carle spent a year and a half as an assistant with the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers, before Montgomery brought him back to Colorado halfway through his first season at the helm. Carle has handled much of the recruiting for the Pios since he got back to campus, and is also in control of the defense and penalty kill for the program. Denver wouldn’t be the first school to give him a shot as a head coach––his hometown school, Alaska Anchorage, interviewed him and offered him the job last month, but he turned it down.
Carle himself has campaigned for the opportunity to coach his alma mater, telling the Denver Post’s Mike Chambers that he will retain assistant coach Tavis MacMillan and video coach Joe Howe should he be promoted. Another advantage Carle will have is he has recruited many of the current committed players and would likely be more successful at keeping them committed than someone hired from outside the program would be. Denver fans should expect Carle to get the job and continue the school’s success at the national level. And if he does well, maybe one day he can get an NHL job and follow Montgomery to the pros.
If you asked me a few years ago if I thought Bazin would ever leave UMass Lowell for anything other than an NHL head coaching job, I would have given you a flat-out no. But seeing Greg Carvel, Mel Pearson, and Bob Motzko leave their alma maters for higher-profile college jobs, it’s at least worth entertaining the merits. And from a storyline standpoint, Bazin could be the most intriguing of the candidates. Already on the short list of best coaches in the country, what could Bazin do with a school that actually lands highly-touted recruits?
Bazin, who spent eight years as an assistant with Colorado College, just finished his seventh season at the helm of the River Hawks. The 2017–18 campaign was easily his least successful, as it was the first time a UMass Lowell team under Bazin finished in the bottom half of Hockey East, and just the second time they missed the NCAA tournament. Bazin has won the Bob Kullen Award for Hockey East’s coach of the year three times and the Spencer Penrose Award as national coach of the year when he led the River Hawks to the Frozen Four in 2013. He also has overachieved in the player development department, with Connor Hellebuyck, Christian Folin, Scott Wilson, and Chad Ruhwedel among the notable players he has coached in college.
But the question remains: would Bazin, 47, even accept another collegiate job if offered? The AHL’s Utica Comets, Vancouver’s affiliate, offered him their head coaching position last June, but he decided to turn that down in favor of a contract extension with UMass Lowell that will keep him at his alma mater until 2021. No doubt he would make Denver perhaps the most feared team in college hockey if he does agree to coach the Pios, but the athletic department would probably have to shell out a lot of money to lure him away from Lowell.
Lalonde has coached at pretty much every level in the United States except the NHL. He spent five years as an assistant at Denver under George Gwozdecky, where he acted as the video and goaltending coach in addition to his recruiting duties. He then decided to take a stab at running his own team, taking a dual head coach/GM job with the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers, and winning the Clark Cup as league champions in his first season, helping make Jordan and Nick Schmaltz first-round draft picks, and leading the USA Under-20 select team to gold at the Junior A Challenge in 2013.
After Lalonde spent three years in total control of the Gamblers, he moved up to the Toledo Walleye of the ECHL to be their head coach. The team won their division both years that he was in charge, and won the regular season title in 2014–15. Lalonde interviewed to move up in the Red Wings’ pecking order with the Grand Rapids Griffins, and although he did not get that job, he took over as the head coach of the Iowa Wild in 2016.
In two years with Iowa, Lalonde, 45, has not led them to the playoffs yet, but he’s certainly done his job from a player development standpoint. Joel Eriksson Ek, Gustav Olofsson, and Nick Seeler all made an impact with the big club this year, while Mike Reilly and Alex Tuch have found roles with other NHL teams. Sam Anas was one of the best players in the AHL this year and should make his NHL debut next year. The jury is out on whether now, with Lalonde so close to the NHL, he would even want to go back to the college ranks, but it is worth considering.
Though Miller has bounced around from place to place over the course of the last few seasons, it is Denver with whom he is most closely associated as a coach. He outlasted George Gwozdecky at DU, having been brought in by Gwoz as an assistant back when he was initially hired in 1994, and making it half a season into Jim Montgomery’s tenure, when he left to be GM and head coach of a USHL franchise being established in his hometown of Madison, Wisconsin.
Miller eventually left the Capitols organization before they played a game, and joined Providence as their top assistant for one season, one in which the Friars won their first national championship, and Miller’s third as an assistant coach. But with all of his family still living in Colorado, Miller decided to return to the state, taking a volunteer job as a video coach with Air Force. Those two years added a new element to his coaching ability, and USA Hockey took notice, adding him to the staff of the two most recent World Junior teams in that capacity.
He was rumored to be joining the staff at the University of Minnesota in 2017–18, but the alumni’s preference for a fellow alum forced Miller to look elsewhere. He landed as an assistant at Ohio State, where he ran one of the most deadly power plays in all of college hockey and led the Buckeyes to the Frozen Four. Would Miller, 52, continue his nomadic hockey ways and seek out the first head coaching job of his long career? That certainly could be possible. And with the familiarity he already has with the University of Denver, Killer Miller would definitely be a fan favorite as a coach.