If all a coaching job with the UA required was hatred for Arizona State, then Chad Berman would be in pretty good shape.
The Wildcats’ new hockey coach, hired last week as Sean Hogan’s replacement, has already had a bout with the Sun Devils.
Last year, Arizona beat their rivals for the first time in 37 games. But Berman, formerly an assistant coach at Robert Morris University in Illinois, wasn’t so lucky.
The Eagles, the No. 2-ranked team in the ACHA, faced Arizona State in the national title game and faltered, losing 3-1.
“I’m circling that first game on the calendar,” he said.
Then, last week after he was announced as his new head coach, he scrolled through his email.
One in particular stuck out. Berman received an email from one of his father’s co-workers congratulating him “on the ASU job.”
Record scratch. Stop the music.
“I thought it was funny how quickly I replied,” said Berman, who played college hockey at Division III SUNY Fredonia. “It was like my fingers were bleeding with anger. That’s when I realized, ‘Oh yeah, I’m already kind of entrenched in this rivalry.’”
Now, in reality, that wasn’t enough to get him the new Arizona job, vacated when Hogan abruptly resigned and accepted a job offer from Ohio University in June.
His credentials as an assistant at Robert Morris University of Illinois were solid. He coached defensemen and was responsible for both player development and recruiting while at Robert Morris. With his help, the Hawks rose from being ranked No. 20 in the ACHA to No. 12 the following year, then No. 8, No. 5 and, finally, No. 2 last year.
“I’m coming into a program ranked 19th,” Berman said. “So, the past four years I had experience in doing what we need to do here (at Arizona), so I know what it takes to build a program and create that consistency.”
Although, while that’s all impressive, the team he’s inheriting will be taking more of a “wait-and-see” approach with their new coach.
“For me, and this is the honest truth, but that doesn’t really matter,” said sophomore defenseman Alex Vazquez. “Credibility, and that type of stuff comes later. You can see it on paper, he did this and that, but until I actually see it for myself, that’s when I’ll know.”
Sunday, he took the first step to proving himself to his new team — he had plenty of time, driving 28 straight hours from Chicago to Tucson with his wife and their 2-year-old child.
He called and texted with every player on the team. He told them about his philosophies, and his plan.
“Well, first thing I tried to establish is that I’m someone that’s going to fight for them,” said Berman, who’s original from Grand Rapids, Michigan. “I’m somebody who prides myself on my communication. They can always talk to me whether it be hockey or girlfriend problems, and I think when you build that foundation, it’s easier to work with these kids because they want to feel like you’re in their corner.”
That last bit is particularly important to Vazquez, who was taken aback by Hogan’s sudden exit.
“He was the reason why I came to Arizona,” Vazquez said. “When it happened I was so shocked because I wasn’t told anything, I wasn’t warned or anything. There was no sign at all, in exit interviews or anything. I didn’t even get a phone call or email: I had to see it online.
“I’m kind of bitter about it, to be honest. But now that I’m talking to the new guy, everything is feeling a little bit better. I like his philosophies.”
Added Berman: “I think I’m a good fit because one thing this program needs is stability, somebody who’s going to stay here. I have a 2½-year-old. The one negative to coaching is that often you get bounced around city to city, and I’m not looking to do that. I’m looking to build a program, and stay here.”