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Guilbault Takes Over as Canes’ Soccer Coach

Hartford High assistant boys soccer coach Kevin Guilbault, right, offers consolation to goalkeeper Aaron Parker (1) following the Hurricanes' 2-1 double-overtime loss in a Vermont Division I semifinal at Colchester High School on Tuesday.

Valley News -- Greg Fennell

Hartford High assistant boys soccer coach Kevin Guilbault, right, offers consolation to goalkeeper Aaron Parker (1) following the Hurricanes' 2-1 double-overtime loss in a Vermont Division I semifinal at Colchester High School on Tuesday. Valley News -- Greg Fennell Purchase photo reprints »

White River Junction — He’s played for Steve Sass. He’s worked for Steve Sass. He’s coached for Steve Sass. Now Kevin Guilbault is succeeding Sass with the Hartford High School boys soccer program.

Hartford Athletic Director Joe James officially handed the soccer keys to Guilbault last week. The 1989 Hartford graduate should know plenty about how it operates, having played in the Hurricanes’ midfield during the program’s first noteworthy successes in addition to serving as Sass’ junior varsity coach the past 15 years.

Sass retired as varsity coach last fall after guiding the Canes to the Vermont Division I semifinals.

“I guess the challenges are this: We’re losing the greatest coach the program has ever had, but we’re also losing one of the best senior classes that the program ever had,” Guilbault said last week. “I’d say we’re losing 80 to 85 percent of the starting lineup. That’s always a big challenge; that’s a lot of shoes to fill all over the place.

“I know the group that is coming up, being able to coach them over a couple of years. That’s a strength. If they embrace the challenge in front of them, the sky’s the limit.”

Guilbault’s appointment continues a gradual progression for the 42-year-old Hartland resident.

An attacking midfielder, Guilbault’s final Hartford team — with Sass early in his coaching tenure — earned the program’s first home state tournament game, an eventual shootout loss to Rice. Back then, Vermont teams had to win 40 percent of their games to qualify for states; intervening years would see Hartford do that on a regular basis, even if not required for the playoffs.

Guilbault also had a love for ice hockey, skating at forward on a team that fell in overtime of the Vermont Division II finals in 1989. Guilbault has been an assistant to varsity hockey Todd Bebeau since 2001, the first of two consecutive state title runs.

“I just think he likes working with young people; he likes a team atmosphere,” said Sass, who rang up a 236-167-30 mark as head boys soccer coach. “He’s a competitive guy. He likes to share his knowledge of the game. He has a good sense of the game. He watches it and keeps up with it.”

Guilbault continued playing both sports at Nichols College, but it was his experiences on the soccer field with Sass and in the hockey rink for Butch Lovering at Hartford that ignited his first interests in coaching.

Sass didn’t have to prod Guilbault into filling the vacancy left by his retirement.

“What I see from him and what he’s done for us is really give the program a lot of stability,” Sass said. “He’s been a very positive fixture at the second-team level for 15 years. He has a good understanding of kids and high school guys, and he really enjoys the game. He has some really strong connections with the guys he’s coached. He’ll be a terrific fit.”

Guilbault will have a challenge in keeping Hartford’s current run of form going. The Canes have accumulated six consecutive winning seasons and went 24-6-2 the past two autumns.

Last season’s semifinal run was Hartford’s deepest in states in 15 years, most of which have been spent in Burlington-centric D-I. The Canes graduated 14 players from last fall’s 21-player roster, although leading scorer Connor Brooks and his team-high 12 goals will return.

“I think the strength will be that they are very athletic; I think speed will be an asset for us,” said Guilbault, who has worked at Sass’ cabinetmaking shop and who is also a line cook at Jesse’s Restaurant in Lebanon. “The weaknesses would obviously be inexperience. They haven’t played at that level; they haven’t made the adjustment because they will be moving from junior varsity to varsity.”

What Guilbault said he won’t do is give the Hurricanes a full year of his mind. Hartford will continue to field a high school-level team in the summertime New Hampshire Soccer Conference, but Guilbault will leave the coaching to someone else.

Come the fall, however, he’ll be back to doing what Sass did for 28 years: Finding a way to keep Hartford boys soccer competitive and successful from the coaching sidelines.

“I like to think that I work the kids hard during practice, but come game day I give them the leeway to have fun,” Guilbault said. “That’s their reward day.

“I think I’m fair. I think I’m honest. But they know discipline and sportsmanship are keys with me in how they represent themselves and the school.”

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.