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A Coach, a Leader, a Friend: George Crowe Left a Lasting Impact on Dartmouth Hockey

  • Head-shot photos of George Crowe lie atop the folder containing newspaper clippings about him in the Dartmouth College sports information office this week. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)

  • An artist's rendering of the late Dartmouth College men's and women's hockey coach George Crowe, pulled from his sports information office file. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)

  • George Crowe walks off the Thompson Arena ice holding the Ivy League championship trophy during his tenure as Dartmouth men's hockey coach. Crowe, who died at 82 last week, directed both the Big Green men's and women's hockey teams and was a combined 305-234-28.

  • George Crowe watches action from the home bench at Thompson Arena during the late 1980s and while coaching the Dartmouth College women's hockey team. Previously the school's men's hockey coach, Crowe took both programs deep into the national playoffs.

  • George Crowe holds court with friends, family members and the staff of the Elite Hockey Training Center during a celebration of the organization's 30th anniversary in July of 2016. Crowe, the former Dartmouth College men's and women's hockey coach, died last week at 82 but the summer hockey camp he founded in the mid-1980s thrives at Norwich University and is runs by his daughter, Patti Crowe. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)

  • George Crowe and his wife, Barbara, wave to girls campers during a 2015 barbecue at the Elite Hockey Training Center's season on the Dartmouth College campus. George Crowe founded the business and remained involved even after retiring from coaching stints with the Big Green's men's and women's hockey teams. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)

  • George Crowe waves to the Thompson Arena crowd on Feb. 14, 2015, while being honored along with his former men's hockey players for consecutive trips to the national semifinals in 1979 and 1980. Crowe, 82, died last week in Florida. He coached the Big Green women's team after his stint on the men's side of the sport. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)

  • George and Barbara Crowe, right, listen to a speaker during a 2015 celebration of his Dartmouth College men's ice hockey teams at the Hanover Inn. Crowe coached the Big Green to the 1979 and 1980 national semifinals and later moved over to guide the school's women's hockey program. He died last week at 82.

  • Former Dartmouth College men's and women's hockey coach George Crowe with daughters Patti, left, and Wendy, on July 31, 2014 outside Thompson Arena. George Crowe was 305-234-28 during his career with the Big Green. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)

  • George Crowe, leg on the bench in a characteristic pose, with his Dartmouth College men's hockey team during the 1979-80 season. Crowe died at 82 last week in Florida, leaving a stamp not only on Big Green hockey, but on the sport as a whole in the Upper Valley.

  • Former Dartmouth College men's hockey coach George Crowe and player Mark Culhane in a 1978 game program photo. Crowe died at 82 last week in Florida, touching off a wave of recollections and thanks from his hundreds of former Big Green men's and women's players. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)

  • Head coach George Crowe, second from right in the back row, in a game program photo with his 1976-77 Dartmouth College men's hockey team. Crowe died at 82 last week in Florida. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)

  • A game program autographed by former Dartmouth College men's hockey coach George Crowe in his distinctive handwriting. Crowe, who died last week at 82, led the Big Green to the 1979 and 1980 national semifinals. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)



Valley News Staff Writer
Sunday, January 13, 2019

Hanover — Beginning next weekend, a small patch with the initials G.C. will adorn jerseys of the Dartmouth College men’s and women’s hockey teams. It’s a fittingly understated acknowledgement of former coach George Crowe, the humble and hardworking gentleman who took both programs to significant heights.

Crowe, 82, who died last week in Florida after a second battle with cancer, left an indelible stamp upon the sport in the Upper Valley and beyond.

“He was unbelievably passionate about hockey and a fiery guy who loved to compete, but he had it in perspective,” said current Big Green men’s coach Bob Gaudet, a former Dartmouth goaltender who played for Crowe from 1977-81 and got his coaching start under him. “I’ve told our guys how much George meant to me and the lessons he taught me that I didn’t realize at the time.

“He wasn’t going to give me anything, but he also believed in me and I knew that and it fueled me.”

A native of Rothesay, New Brunswick, Crowe began his coaching career at the NCAA Division II and high school levels. In 1975, with Dartmouth about to move from decrepit Davis Rink into brand-new Thompson Arena, athletic director Seaver Peters made Crowe a surprising hire. The Big Green had won only five games the previous winter, but within four years it was the talk of U.S. hockey, taking on powerful North Dakota in a national semifinal at Detroit’s storied Olympia Stadium.

The Big Green was back in the semifinals against the Fighting Sioux the next year, this time in Providence, R.I., but it again failed to reach the title game. Dartmouth twice won the consolation contest, finishing third in a national field featuring numerous scholarship programs.

Just as suddenly, however, Big Green men’s hockey bottomed out, and Crowe was replaced after the 1983-84 season, his “resignation” a thinly-veiled cover for an administration squeamish about big-time athletic success and which had tightened admissions standards.

After using the time off to study at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business and to establish the Elite Hockey Training Center summer camps, Crowe embarked on a graceful second act when he took over the college’s floundering women’s hockey program. He was its fourth coach in as many years, but four Ivy League championships followed, setting the stage for repeated runs at the national title after his 1998 retirement.

By that time, however, Crowe was as well known for his boundless good will and dedication to hockey overall as for his won-loss record. Dozens of his former players became coaches themselves, including Gaudet and Dartmouth football’s Buddy Teevens. The list includes former Big Green women’s coach Judy Parish Oberting, onetime University of New Hampshire women’s coach Brian McCloskey, Merrimack (Mass.) College men’s coach Scott Borek, legendary St. Lawrence men’s coach Joe Marsh and longtime University of Regina (Saskatchewan) women’s coach Sarah Howald Hodges.

Former Big Green player Lori Jacobs Charpentier, the girls hockey coach at the Brooks School in North Andover, Mass., landed the same job at Meriden’s Kimball Union Academy not long after her 1992 Dartmouth graduation. She recalls seeking Crowe’s advice during a dinner meeting.

“He was grabbing salt and pepper shakers off other tables to show me a drill,” Charpentier recalled with a laugh. “I said, ‘Coach, they’re just high school kids, they won’t get it’.

“He looked at me and said ‘They will if you explain it properly.’ ”

George Edward Crowe Jr. grew up outside Saint John, New Brunswick, not far from Maine’s eastern border. His father, George Sr., managed a local dairy and met his wife, Alabama resident Elizabeth Massey, while on a business trip to Florida. They had three sons, John, Paul and George. The latter met his future wife, Barbara, during the sixth grade.

The local outdoor rink was practically in the family’s back yard, Paul Crowe said in a phone interview, recalling that the boys also skated on frozen ponds and streams and the local reservoir during their 1940s childhoods. George was a goaltender, back when that meant strapping on rounded leg pads and playing without a face mask. As George grew, however, rectangular “box pads” became normal leg protection, and his father required him to don a baseball catcher’s mask.

George Jr. was backstopping the town’s senior hockey team and playing in an industrial league by the time he was 12. Three years later, he played a period against the NHL’s New York Rangers when they toured the Maritime Provinces. A Toronto Maple Leafs scout knocked on the family’s door an hour after the exhibition contest concluded.

The bird dog made his pitch to the Crowes: allow George to prep with the St. Michael’s Buzzers high school team in Toronto, and he’d be in the Leafs’ pipeline to the NHL, which at the time featured only six teams.

George Sr., whose formal education ceased after the sixth grade, thought for a few moments, and then said he’d allow the move only if Paul, himself a strong player, was included. Sorry, no dice, replied the scout, and went on his way.

During the summers, the Crowe boys worked in the ice cream division of their father’s employer. All the ice cream you can eat was the rule, but after the boys gorged themselves during the first week, the frozen treats’ appeal tended to wane. Paul wanted to teach physical education, and with no Canadian university east of Montreal offering that major, he made the five-hour drive to Western Massachusetts’ Springfield College, where he captained the hockey team.

George followed his brother to run track and play tennis and tend goal for the Maroons before the college cut the latter sport after his freshman year. He then backstopped the Worcester (Mass.) Warriors of the Eastern Hockey League and helped Springfield win the 1957 NCAA soccer title as a field player. Crowe earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education and a master’s degree in education. He was a camp counselor during the summers.

After a year as a high school P.E. teacher, Crowe landed a similar job at Albany (N.Y.) Academy, where he was head coach for boys hockey and track and an assistant coach for soccer from 1960-63. The next step was to Oswego (N.Y.) State University, where the Lakers had a new hockey rink and were transitioning from a club team to Division II status. A slew of recruiting letters to hockey hotbeds included a missive to Berlin (N.H.) High, where hockey standout and future high school French teacher Pierre Belanger read it and signed on as part of Crowe’s first recruiting class.

“We got along pretty well and I would babysit his daughters, Cindee, Wendy and Patti,” said Belanger, who became a pro and college referee and has worked at the Crowe family’s summer hockey camps for decades. “One night, George and Barbara came home and discovered I’d pulled Patti’s loose tooth by tying it to a door knob and slamming the door.”

Oswego was 55-23-3 under Crowe and in 1968 he moved to Phillips Exeter (N.H.) Academy, where the prestigious prep school was building a state-of-the-art, twin rink complex. The Big Red’s new coach not only went 94-44-1 during his seven-year stay, he and his family also lived in Cilley Hall and he created a summer hockey school template that became popular across North America.

The Exeter camps featured four, two-week sessions with roughly 200 boys each, and the Upper Valley contributed a slew of them each June and July. The players boarded in the school dorms, ate at the cafeteria and skated three times per day. Street hockey, shooting instruction, field sports and film/video study were incorporated into an all-out effort to keep the youngsters busy and leave them fatigued. High school and college players and coaches flocked to work at Exeter, where they played high-level pickup games once the campers were in bed.

Gaudet, who toiled as one of Crowe’s camp coaches while at Dartmouth, recalled rising at 6 a.m. for the first day’s skate. He would conduct practices planned down to the minute by the watchful Crowe, who could observe both rinks at once while on an elevated, concrete walkway between them. A coach who allowed his drills to begin or end off-schedule, or who let himself or his subordinates go through the motions, would hear about it between sessions.

“He’d make sure the backchecking drills were starting at the same time and a minute later, he’d have his arms around the shoulders of some homesick kid,” Gaudet said. “Then at 10:20 at night, he’s in the stands watching me play and I feel like I’m competing for my (Dartmouth) job. What great times.”

Belanger recalls that Crowe, for whom physical fitness was a matter of deep pride, would grab a quick salad for lunch before playing tennis and, following the afternoon skating sessions, squeeze in a game of racquetball. Pushup and sit-up contests would break out in the coaches’ locker room, the director matching his younger employees rep for rep.

Despite his attention to detail and organization, Crowe was not a taskmaster. Like his players, his summer coaches thrived because he gave them room to work. The night before a camp session ended, Crowe would oversee the writing of campers’ report cards and sometimes require they be redone in more exacting detail. He would also make sure food and drinks were on hand, however, and the evening would conclude with storytelling and laughter.

Once a national title contender, Dartmouth men’s hockey had fallen on hard times during the early 1970s. Davis Rink, built of wood and bricks in 1929, sat on the site now occupied by Leede Arena, and its cramped and worn confines had become an embarrassment. Athletic director Peters, a former Big Green player, drove the fundraising and construction of Thompson Arena, and with the beautiful concrete building scheduled for a 1975 opening, he thought a hockey team that had won only five games the previous winter needed new leadership.

Early handicapping for a coach to replace Grant Standbrook favored the University of New Hampshire’s Charlie Holt, a Dartmouth graduate who guided the Wildcats to five seasons of 20 or more victories during his first eight seasons. Also in contention was Bowdoin College’s Sid Watson, who had been with the Polar Bears in Maine since 1959 and was twice honored as the national small-college coach of the year. The Boston Globe noted that there was a “dark horse” candidate: Phillips Exeter’s George Crowe.

The dark horse, sporting a fashionable haircut and noticeable sideburns, got the job and arrived the same season as the start of freshman eligibility in the Ivy League. The freshmen and sophomores thumped the upperclassmen during a pair of preseason scrimmages, leading Crowe to cut many of his seniors. It was a dicey move, but a 16-victory season and an overtime ECAC playoff loss to Brown, the eventual third-place finisher in the NCAA tournament, made the decision look smart.

Crowe’s first recruiting class was a dandy, featuring future standout forwards Ross Brownridge, Dennis Murphy and Rich Ryerson. He followed that a year later with a haul that included Gaudet, defensemen Barry Ryan and Chris McLaughlin and forwards Chip Bettencourt and Mark Bedard. Coming aboard in 1978 were future NHL forward Carey Wilson, smooth-skating swing man John Donnelly and the snarling pair of Shaun Teevens and Bill Flanigan, a wing and rearguard, respectively.

Buoyed by a flourishing junior varsity program that sometimes included as many as three dozen players, the Big Green won 19 games during both the 1978-79 and 1979-80 campaigns. Student conga lines snaked along campus sidewalks and underneath Memorial Field’s enormous football grandstand toward Thompson on game nights. The pep band blasted away in a corner section and students waved handmade signs with red targets on them when bodychecks left an opponent crumpled on the ice.

Zamboni driver Richard Hutchins guided his steed in a top hat and tails for the annual morning game on Winter Carnival weekend. During other contests, students would stretch over the low Plexiglass to switch baseball caps atop his head as the resurfacer drove past, and a red rooster would be shoved onto the ice whenever Harvard was in town. Once the action started, Dartmouth was known for going all-out on the forecheck, gambling that the equivalent of a basketball full-court press would result in turnovers and scoring chances.

“Everybody had good players, but it was a question of what you did with them, and George got the most out of our crew with his preparation and systems,” said goaltender Jim Jankowski, who arrived at Dartmouth in 1977. “We actually practiced changing on the fly as five-man units and he stressed short, hard shifts.”

Crowe led his players in vigorous calisthenics during preseason workouts at Memorial Field. He cranked out fingertip pushups and had little trouble keeping pace during runs around the track and up and down the bleachers. His enthusiasm accompanied an even-keeled personality, however, and that poise spread to his players. They enjoyed the rare moments Crowe would become agitated, but also took his words to heart.

“When he said something, he meant it and it was well thought-out and you’d better take it to heart,” said Wilson, who played the 1979-80 and 1980-81 seasons before leaving to play in Finland, with the Canadian Olympic team and later in the NHL. “He had a way about him to get the best out of everybody, like a professor. He was really good at knowing which guys needed a kick in the pants and which ones needed a velvet glove.”

Several changes led to Dartmouth’s decline and Crowe’s eventual ouster, one of them being Wilson’s departure. The Big Green’s national success coincided with the University of Pennsylvania’s men’s basketball team reaching the 1979 Final Four. That spurred tighter admissions policies for Ivy League athletes and Dartmouth enacted them more rapidly than its rivals. In addition, Crowe’s assistant and talented recruiter, Mike McShane, departed for the head job at St. Lawrence.

The splitting apart of the ECAC, with many of its scholarship programs forming the high-powered Hockey East conference, left the Ivies playing catchup to an even greater degree. The arrival of new Dartmouth president David T. McLaughlin didn’t help either, for he and Peters didn’t see eye-to-eye and the latter stepped down in 1983, robbing the hockey program and Crowe of a crucial ally.

The new athletic director, Ted Leland, fired Crowe in February of 1984, en route to a 3-23-0 record that was the worst in program history at the time. Leland explained at a news conference that Crowe had become tired of the increasing demands men’s coaching, and while that was true and Crowe didn’t contradict his boss, it was eventually understood that he hadn’t left of his own accord.

“Ted Leland made that decision,” said Borek, a boisterous wing whose coaching days began as an undergraduate in the early 1980s after a career-ending injury. “The athletic department’s level of patience was embarrassing.”

Crowe’s willingness to go quietly paid off a couple years later when he was hired to coach Big Green women’s hockey, a varsity team with unimpressive resources. Paul Crowe said his brother was hired for an annual salary of $15,000 and that Dartmouth officials made the offer as something of a courtesy, not thinking he’d bite. However, George Crowe said he’d try the job for a year and inherited a roster of roughly a dozen players, one of whom was thankfully star goaltender Kelley Coyne, a freshman.

“I used to see so many shots and be so tired that I could barely climb the stairs to our locker room after a period,” said Coyne, who recalled playing one game with only seven skaters available besides herself. “But we had no real backup that first season, so I was out there even when I had a 101-degree fever and almost hallucinating.”

Crowe’s response to the short bench? Condition his team thoroughly and spend at least half of every practice teaching the intricacies of defensive coverage. He recruited a couple of Hanover High boys to fill out the practice ranks and figuratively hunkered down, producing a team that paced itself, allowed Coyne to see shots and won a high percentage of faceoffs. It was common-sense hockey taught to smart kids by a passionate and compassionate man.

“We all adored him,” Charpentier said. “We loved his quirkiness and how he could laugh at himself.”

Said Hodges: “He was silly, almost. He makes me laugh every time I think of him. I got to talk to him last week, and he was still making me laugh.”

Crowe’s occasional goofiness, skintight Adidas track suit and black, plastic Micron skates took the edge off his blunt assessments. He was almost incapable of speaking insincerely, but his opinions were delivered in such a thoughtful tone that they tended to educate, not bruise. His initial women’s hockey office in Alumni Gym was off a back hallway and under the swimming pool bleachers, which accounted for its slanted ceiling.

Dark, warm and with a rectangular floor plan, it was laid out so that the green leather armchair facing out the door was perpendicular to Crowe’s desk at the far end. This way, its occupant could chat without directly facing him. Oberting, a dazzling talent who arrived from Connecticut as a brash yet insecure freshman, almost literally grew up sitting in that spot, Crowe helping her navigate everything from emotions to logistical problems.

“That’s where the truth serum was, in that chair,” Oberting said, recalling her coach with his feet up on his desk. “He would be super direct in an awkward, George way, but he had kindness in his eyes and those big ears listened well.”

Charpentier also benefited from such sessions and often left Crowe’s office wondering how and why she had shared so much of her life.

“You knew it was safe and he wouldn’t judge you, but you also always knew where you stood with him, good or bad,” said Jacobs, who like many of her teammates, appreciated that Crowe coached women with the same intensity and expectations as he had men. “It worked because you knew he cared about you.”

Crowe retired as Dartmouth’s women’s hockey coach in 1998, having seen to it that Oberting would succeed him. She had been conducting the bulk of the recruiting for five years and guided the Big Green for another five, taking it to the national semifinals three times. The men’s program endured 16 consecutive losing seasons after Crowe’s departure and has not reached the NCAA tournament since he was coach.

Crowe handed day-to-day operations of his summer camps to his daughter, Patti, a former UNH player, in 1999, and the business continues to flourish at Norwich University in Northfield, Vt. Belanger remains one of the daily directors and hundreds of counselors and coaches with Dartmouth connections have worked for Elite during the past 30 years.

In retirement, George and Barbara Crowe skied, golfed and sailed, living partially in Enfield on Mascoma Lake and partially in Florida. They doted on their grandchildren and were fixtures at Dartmouth men’s and women’s home hockey games for years.

As time passed, fewer of the fans and press box workers recognized the older man in glasses, a baseball cap and a winter jacket cinched at the waist who climbed the stairs to grab line charts before face off. Usually seated in the top two rows of Section 16 with his wife, Crowe would scour the papers’ particulars, noting heights, weights and hometowns, rolling the charts into a tube once the action began and assessing play. Have you noticed No. 7, he’d ask? A fantastic skater and she really hustles.

“George was a good coach and a good person who genuinely cared about the kids,” said Jeff Frechette, who began his career as the Big Green men’s hockey trainer under Crowe and holds the post to this day. “It was a different time, with a little more balance between athletics and academics, and he was a good fit.”

Gaudet took the loss of his mentor hard and hasn’t been his ebullient self of late. However, he’s grateful he had a final, hour-long phone conversation during which he thanked Crowe for changing his life. Gaudet met his wife, Lynn, at Dartmouth and their three children each attended the college, the two sons playing for their father.

In the former coaches locker room in Thompson Arena’s basement last week and seated on a battered wooden bench on which Crowe used to hold court, the current Big Green head man moved from belly laughs to the verge of tears while remembering his friend.

“He gave me an opportunity in a profession in which I had no idea if I’d be any good,” Gaudet said. “We’re better for knowing him. I was a better player and I’m a better person, husband and father for knowing George Crowe.”

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com.