‘It’s Never a Bad Thing to Be in a Rink’
Peters, Rose Beat Bushes to Find Future Prospects
Dartmouth assistant coach Dave Peters, left, chats with senior Alex Goodship after practice Thursday. The 53-year-old Massachusetts native has been with the Big Green for 14 years and is the program’s recruiting coordinator. (Valley News — Tris Wykes) Purchase photo reprints »
“It’s always nice when there aren’t other coaches there, so if someone plays really well, you’ve got first crack at him.” -- Dave Peters (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Purchase photo reprints »
John Rose is in his fourth season as a Dartmouth men’s hockey assistant coach. (Valley News — Tris Wykes) Purchase photo reprints »
Hanover — When the Dartmouth College men’s hockey team battles a foe at Thompson Arena, there’s no mistaking which man behind the bench is its coach. Pacing, grimacing, swiping at the air, 16th-year bench boss Bob Gaudet can barely contain himself at times. Whether exhorting his troops or agitated by an official’s call, Gaudet likes to bellow, his occasionally profane shouting an accompanying soundtrack to the fast-paced action on the ice.
Two years ago, the Big Green advanced to the ECAC semifinals, one victory short of securing an NCAA playoff berth for the first time since 1980. A loss to Cornell left Dartmouth outside the bracket by mere percentage points, and nine seniors soon graduated from the roster. After last season, a campaign hamstrung by injuries, Gaudet’s team graduated 10 seniors.
With such extensive turnover, how is the No. 12 Big Green back in the ECAC title hunt these days? Saturday night’s 3-2 defeat of visiting Harvard has Dartmouth tied for third in the 12-team league.
A large part of the answer is assistant coach Dave Peters, the unimposing man with well-coiffed, graying hair who stands next to Gaudet on the Big Green bench. While his boss gesticulates and hollers, Peters doesn’t make a peep. His efforts, however, are a big reason why Dartmouth is able to compete on a national level.
As the program’s recruiting coordinator, Peters lead the effort to identify, court and land players. Although Dartmouth goes head-to-head with the big boys in some cases, its lack of scholarships, its expensive tuition and its comparatively remote location mean it must also mine for prospects with a particular mix of grades, family income, talent and moxie. More NHL players came from Dartmouth than any other ECAC school at the start of last season, but few of them arrived as blue-chip recruits.
“Dave’s the best in the business,” said Gaudet, who gives the 53-year old Massachusetts native wide latitude in whom to pursue. “Recruiting is our life’s blood.”
As a player, Peters walked on at Boston College, although he never lettered for the Eagles. After graduating in 1982, he worked in business and coached high school hockey before making the jump to the college ranks with Kent State in 1990. The Ohio university dropped hockey in 1994, but Peters had left a year earlier, landing at Providence, where he stayed for five years and helped the Friars win the 1996 Hockey East title.
Following a season as head coach and general manager of the junior-level Danville (Ill.) Wings of the North American Hockey League, Peters came to Dartmouth, where his work was recognized with the 2008 Terry Flanagan Award, given to the country’s top assistant coach by the American Hockey Coaches Association.
Peters’ job is multi-layered. While on campus, he’s responsible for coaching Dartmouth’s forwards and overseeing its power play, which — after a woeful performance last winter — is one of the country’s better units this season. At the same time, he’s sifting thousands of prospects through not only his own judgments, but those of fellow assistant John Rose, who’s in his fourth year on the staff after previous assistant stints at Mercyhurst, Alaska Fairbanks and in the U.S. Junior Hockey League.
While trips to watch players in action can occur year-round, and Peters and Rose each accumulate roughly 80 days on the road per year, the bulk of that time comes in the early fall, when junior teams are staging training-camp tryouts and prospect showcases occur. While Dartmouth’s location means Big Green coaches have to travel hundreds or thousands of miles to see prospects in sports like baseball or football, New England is prime hockey country.
Nonetheless, Peters and Rose still spend plenty of time in locales such as Minnesota, British Columbia and Ontario. Want to know the best place for late-night pizza in Omaha or which Salt Lake City airport gates have the most electric sockets for laptop use? The pair probably have the answer, to say nothing of memorized routes to hundreds of North American hockey arenas.
“You never know what you’re going to see,” Peters said. “It’s always nice when there aren’t other coaches there, so if someone plays really well, you’ve got first crack at him.”
Said Rose: “It’s never a bad thing to be in a rink. Even if the game sucks and there are no good players, there’s information to pick up, and that’s always at a premium.”
That information can range from a tip about an obscure but talented player, to how a prospect reacts when his squad is being blown out. Does the teenager in question snarl at referees who dare penalize him? Does the concession stand lady who’s also a teacher like his attitude in school? What does the team bus driver have to say?
The time away from home becomes worth it, Peters said, as the challenge of constructing a recruiting class is overcome. Dartmouth’s success this season has been built on regular shifts from 14 skaters who are either freshmen or sophomores, plus rookie goaltender Charles Grant. The process of finding and wooing those players began as long as three or four years ago, and hundreds of other potential prospects who could have been here either committed to other schools or were rejected for various reasons.
“It’s exciting because you try to project players, and it’s like a puzzle,” Peters said. “We’re honest with people. If we can’t truly project how much a player will play for us, we either won’t take him or we’ll wait and see.”
Dartmouth’s coaches say they do their best, however, not to formally express interest in a prospect until that decision has been made. Misunderstandings and hurt feelings lead to a poor reputation on the recruiting trail, and that’s where a straight-shooting approach and Peters’ friendly and grounded demeanor can pay off.
Mike Keenan, a Dartmouth senior and rugged defenseman who elicited recruiting interest from several other ECAC teams, said he felt some of those programs strung him along. He got the sense they were trying to keep him on the line while awaiting decisions from other prospects, something absent from Dartmouth’s approach.
“From the first phone call, Coach Pete is always honest and positive, and that was just awesome,” Keenan said. “The first time I talked to him, he said Dartmouth wanted me, and that was different from other teams, which weren’t making any moves.”
Pounce too early and a college team can wind up with players who have already peaked. Wait too long and someone else is sure to grab them. Determining which prospects will continue to improve and when to pull the trigger on offering them a favored admissions slot is an art form at which Peters excels. Gaudet sees some but not all prospects play in person, mostly remaining on campus and attending to his myriad duties there.
“I recruited a lot as a younger coach, but I’ve found guys who are better at it than I am,” Gaudet said, overlooking the fact that a love of his alma mater, his gregarious personality and his program’s success often seal the deal on campus visits. “It’s become so much more of a business than it was.”
Peters said that’s partially because of the finances involved. A few years back, current Big Green standout Matt Lindblad was pursued by and briefly committed to Wisconsin before honoring his previous agreement to attend Dartmouth.
“There’s more at stake now, because coaches’ salaries are higher,” Peters said. “In years past, if a kid made a commitment, you could take it to the bank. Now, there are coaches in some programs who may try to ask the kid if he’s really certain about that commitment. They’re worried more about their livelihood than a gentleman’s agreement.”
There’s no doubting Peters is a gentleman. Soft-spoken and often flashing a warm smile, he immediately comes across as genuine. Lindblad became a fan of his during the recruiting process, when awkward conversations with other college coaches gave way to easy conversation with Peters.
“He’s probably the most personable guy you’ll ever meet,” Lindblad said. “The worst thing for him is we can only dress 20 of 28 guys for a game. Each Thursday, when we find out who’s in the lineup, he always finds those guys who are out, who might be pouting or upset with themselves that they’re not in. He’ll tell them how much he loves them and how it’s a numbers game.”
Peters harbors the dream of becoming a college head coach and has interviewed for openings at Yale and Princeton in the past. However, he said those forays weren’t because he’s unsatisfied in Hanover, noting how much he and his family enjoy the area and how working for Gaudet offers security and significant responsibility.
“Some coaches have seen Dartmouth as a stepping-stone job and maybe thought that we couldn’t win here,” Peters said. “We’ve ignored that and haven’t run to a bigger program. We’re really built a tradition here.”
Piece by piece, day by day, out on the road.
Tris Wykes can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3227.