Boston University Club Hockey Coach Interview – Greg Carr

In the US, College Club Hockey – ACHA or independent – is a rapidly growing level. Programs are popping up all over to accommodate the increasing number of interested players, with some larger schools even having multiple club level teams. As the number of programs has grown, so has the awareness among players. ACHA hockey has become a great option for college players to continue playing competitively even if they aren’t quite up to the level of NCAA varsity hockey.

I called up Greg Carr, current coach of the Boston University ACHA Club hockey team – who I happened to have played for when I was a BU student – to get us a coach’s perspective. Since I was his favorite player ever – he didn’t expressly say that, but I read between the lines – he was glad to help out.

To give a little background on Greg Carr as a player and coach prior to coaching BU club hockey, he played two years at perennial high school hockey powerhouse Catholic Memorial outside Boston. Then played his last two high school seasons at his hometown Hanover {MA} high school. Hanover won a state championship in 1997 and lost in the state finals in 1998. Carr led the state of Massachusetts in scoring in 1998.

He went on to play at Amherst College from 1998-2002, where he was captain of the 2002 team. After college, he played briefly for the Adirondack Ice Hawks in the UHL (AA Professional).

Carr’s full-time coaching career began the Bridgewater Bandits in the EJHL in 2004. He was an assistant coach for the EJHL team and head coach for the Empire League team for two years.

He decided to move out of hockey as a full-time position in 2006 and soon after was approached to coach the – then independent – Boston University club hockey team.

Greg has a very interesting perspective on ACHA level hockey. He has coached BU’s team for 8 years, coming on board when the program was independent and not officially affiliated with the university making it ineligible for official league play, national ranking, playoff’s, etc. Since those days when many other programs refused to play the team due to liability issues, the team has become the official club team of Boston University and gained its ACHA membership.

Carr has seen the club level grow first-hand both regionally and nationally over the past decade and has some really interesting insights on where club hockey has been and where he thinks it’s going…

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I knew the Nash brothers {BU club program founders and Captains at the time} from coaching them in the summer at Hub City hockey. I knew they were good kids and decent hockey players but I did not know much about club hockey at all. They first approached me at a bar and I half-wittingly said let’s talk.

After sitting down for a dinner to have them explain the concept of the team, I realized that club hockey is another avenue student athletes could pursue competitively. There are so many decent hockey players and so few college hockey teams.

What did you think or know about the ACHA or club level at that point?

I didn’t know anything about the level at the time, in the past I thought of club hockey as a more recreational sport, with no real commitment level. And in the northeast, that was exactly what it had been. I think most people associated club hockey as a level with plenty of plugs and benders, etc. …

What did you think of the level of play when you showed up at tryouts compared to your expectations? Worse? Same? Better?

I didn’t have many expectations coming into the first year, but I was pleasantly surprised at the number of decent players on the ice. I figured there would be a handful of AAA players, but not as many as there were.

On the other hand, there were a few kids that almost got killed at tryouts. This is the type of discrepancy in talent level I expected. All in all, there was a wide range of talent but there was enough talent to make it worthwhile for me as a coach.

What did you think of the level of play the beginning of that season – your own team and the competition?

 

I had no idea what to expect of the talent level on my squad or from competing squads. I just wanted my boys to play hockey the right way and to create a competitive atmosphere for our players. There were some really competitive teams out there and then there were teams that fulfilled my previous inclinations about club hockey. Some teams did not have coaches and others had coaches who thought it was the Stanley Cup, a little embarrassing on both ends of the spectrum to say the least.

What are some of the biggest misperceptions you’ve heard about club hockey? From the general hockey community? From incoming players?

I think there are lingering misconceptions about club hockey in the northeast because there are still a wide variety of club teams out there. At the most competitive level, all teams are run like a typical varsity team by respected coaches. At the bottom end of the spectrum, there are still teams with no coaches and no direction. Since we play at the higher end of the spectrum, some players are surprised at the talent level once we start playing.

New players this year could not believe the level of talent on a team like Florida Gulf Coast. Some of the stereotypes of club hockey are correct, but certainly not at the competitive levels. People are starting to recognize that there are different levels of ACHA club hockey.

What have the biggest changes you’ve seen in club hockey over the time you’ve been coaching it?

By far the depth of talent has improved every year. When I started, we had 6-8 guys who could have played junior hockey. Now that number has doubled and it seems consistent across the board with the competitive teams we play.

What do you expect in the years to come?

I expect the club level to mimic the NCAA and become more structured as we move forward. You need to look at the growth of hockey in the US. There are so many new markets and a growing youth base, yet college teams aren’t expanding at the same rate.

Now you have so many more talented players vying for the same number of college spots, there isn’t enough room for all of these players to find college spots – especially if players want to go to a large school like BU. If you aren’t a d1 player, then you need to give up hockey in order to do so? The club level allows players to keep playing competitive hockey in college without being pigeonholed to a school just for hockey.

What kinds of players should be considering the club hockey route? (Previous play level, experience, etc.)

Players who want to play competitive hockey but might not have the talent level to be recruited heavily for varsity programs. I always tell young players to go where you are wanted. I never want to discourage players from going after their dreams, but players need to keep an open mind when looking at colleges and shouldn’t put all of their eggs in one basket. Any player can find a school and play club hockey, but they need to do their research on the level of play. For the top teams at the club level, most players have AAA experience along with club or prep school backgrounds.

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Do your homework.

Because there is such a discrepancy at the club level, make sure you ask the right questions of the college itself and then make sure you talk to the current coach and some players. Incoming students need to understand the support the club team gets from the school and also understand what type of commitment the team requires. As long as students do their due diligence, the more likely it is for them to have a positive experience.

Can you see a point where ACHA club hockey becomes a level truly sought by players? Either a level that players use as a stepping-stone to NCAA varsity (Similar prep or Jr.) or something that essentially becomes a “D4” – involving active recruiting and players reaching out to specific teams/coaches prior to enrollment?

I think it will remain where it is currently, an opportunity for players to keep playing hockey if they fall short of being recruited by a D1 or D3 program. I don’t think that will change. What will change is the amount of club teams trying to recruit players. There are already many club teams who do recruit players from prep & juniors. This will keep increasing as club hockey grows.

Once the awareness of the club level is realized at the lower levels of junior, prep & high school hockey, it will be seen as a viable option to keep playing hockey in college. I personally have already seen this shift in the past 8 years; I am on the receiving end of more and more inquiries about our program and competition level every season.

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