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College Hockey -- Souza's goal: Fill the Whitt

New Hampshire Union Leader

March 14. 2018 11:49PM
University of New Hampshire assistant hockey coach Mike Souza during the second period of an October exhibition game vs. St. Francis Xavier at The Whittemore Center in Durham. (Mark Bolton/Union Leader)

DURHAM — When University of Connecticut men’s hockey coach Mike Cavanaugh added Mike Souza to his staff in 2013, he did not do so with the idea that Souza would spend the next decade or two with the Huskies.

Cavanaugh wanted Souza to eventually become the head coach of the latter’s alma mater: the University of New Hampshire.

“When he hired me, he said, ‘Mike, my goal is for you to get the head coaching job when Dick (Umile) retires at UNH,’” Souza said.

Cavanaugh was one of many people Souza thanked when he was introduced as UNH’s 13th head coach Wednesday at the Whittemore Center.

After two seasons as an assistant coach at Brown, Souza joined Cavanaugh’s UConn staff as an associate head coach. Souza’s next coaching stop brought him back to Durham in 2015, assisting Umile, who he recorded 156 points (66 goals, 90 assists) for as a player from 1996-2000.

Working with the defense and power-play units and recruiting were among Souza’s duties during his three seasons under Umile.

“As a graduate of UNH and a former student-athlete, (Souza) understands the school and the program,” Umile said in a statement. “Mike is a natural and will lead the program to tremendous success.”

Umile announced at the end of the 2016-17 campaign that this past season — his 28th leading the program — would be his last and Souza would succeed him as head coach.

“I don’t, ironically, necessarily, think transition plans are a good thing most of the time but I think it’s going to prove to be successful in our case,” UNH Director of Athletics Marty Scarano said.

During Souza’s college career, the Wildcats reached the NCAA Frozen Four twice and played in the 1999 national championship game. Souza, 40, wants to lead UNH to those same heights again.

UNH went 10-20-6 overall and 5-14-5 in Hockey East play this past season and has not reached the conference semifinals since 2014-15. The Wildcats have not finished with an overall record above .500 since the 2013-14 season, when they went 22-18-1 and reached the Hockey East title game.

“Winning becomes infectious just like losing does,” Souza said. “We want to win hockey games here. Our players want to win hockey games here and it all starts on Monday when we start working out.”

Souza, who is from Wakefield, Mass., said the Wildcats’ style of play will not change much and he is excited about the team’s young talent both already on the roster and coming into the program. From a recruiting standpoint, Souza wants to bring in players who are driven and aspire to play professional hockey, get a degree and have a positive impact on the university.

Souza said he wants to keep associate head coach Glenn Stewart on staff and will hire his replacement as associate head coach sooner than later.

The Wildcats’ goals will not be different than they were under Umile or from the other Hockey East programs, Souza said. UNH wants to be the top team in the conference in the regular season, win the Hockey East playoffs and, ultimately, the NCAA championship, Souza said.

Souza is also determined to fill the Whittemore Center. UNH has ranked eighth in Hockey East in attendance each of the past four years. The Wildcats averaged 4,422 fans at home games this past season, an uptick from their 2016-17 season average (4,328).

“I want to fill the Whittemore Center — not when we play Maine but when we play every opponent because that’s the way it was when I was here,” Souza said.

“That’s what I want for our guys. I want them to be able to experience the same things I experienced here as a student-athlete.”