In Kevin Patrick’s first year as an assistant coach for the Wisconsin men’s hockey team, the Badgers won the 2006 NCAA title.
The Badgers hope to give the Schenectady native and former Union assistant coach one more title before he leaves the team.
Patrick will leave the Badgers after the NCAA hockey tournament ends this weekend for a head coaching job with the Muskegon Lumberjacks, an expansion team in the United States Hockey League that will begin play next season. He was named to the position March 11.
The West Region-champion Badgers (27-10-4) take on East Region-champ Rochester Institute of Technology (28-11-1) in the first semifinal today at 5 p.m. at Ford Field in Detroit. The victor will face the winner of the second semifinal between Boston College and Miami (Ohio) in the championship game at 7 p.m. Saturday.
“It’s definitely bittersweet,” Patrick said. “I love the University of Wisconsin and Badger hockey. It’s been an unbelievable experience, both professionally and personally. My family is ingrained in the Madison community. But the opportunity to take the next step and become a head coach of a USHL team is a great opportunity that I had to make the most of.”
Patrick, a 1992 graduate of Notre Dame, where he was a four-year defenseman, has prior experience in the USHL. He was assistant coach and assistant general manager for the Green Bay Gamblers during the 1997-98 season.
Since then, Patrick has been a college hockey assistant coach. He started in 1998 at Union under head coach Kevin Sneddon. After four years with the Dutchmen, Patrick went to Bowling Green, where he spent three seasons before moving to Wisconsin.
Patrick has been a candidate for several college head coaching jobs, including Union’s opening after Sneddon left for Vermont following the 2002-03 season. But he hadn’t been able to land a job.
“I think the big thing is there’s so many qualified candidates out there and so few jobs,” Patrick said. “The best thing you can do is get your name in the ring and take your swings, and hope the opportunity presents itself. It’s not that different than getting to a Frozen Four.
“There are a lot of good teams out there who don’t make it to the Frozen Four. You’ve got to have a little bit of luck, and a little bit of timing. Those things all go into play for getting to that next step, or that next opportunity.”
By going to the junior ranks to become a head coach, Patrick hopes that will help him return to college as a head coach.
“To be a head coach in the premier junior league in North America,” Patrick said, “to get that experience and, basically, to getting the type of hockey players we’re getting now one step sooner keeps you in close contact with college coaches and pro scouts. Hopefully, that will be the right experience to continue to move forward in my coaching career.”
Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves believes Patrick will be a successful head coach at Muskegon, and will, eventually, find his way back to the college ranks as a head coach. It will be strange for Eaves not to have Patrick around after this weekend.
“He’s a very detailed guy,” Eaves said. “We’re going to miss his details in the office. The other thing I’ll miss is that every time we went to a rink with Kevin, he was like Norm from ‘Cheers,’ everybody knew him. He’d walk into a rink, and it was, ‘Hey, KP!’ As a college coach, that’s a good thing because he’s well-connected.”