Citing a desire to get out of his comfort zone, Union men’s hockey associate head coach Jason Tapp is leaving the program.
He will remain in familiar territory, though — ECAC Hockey — as he has accepted an assistant position on new Dartmouth head coach Reid Cashman’s staff.
Tapp spent 11 seasons on the Union staff, the first two as a volunteer assistant under Nate Leaman before being promoted to assistant when Rick Bennett became the head coach in 2011-12. They went on to win ECACH Whitelaw Cup, signifying the conference tournament champion, for the first time that season, and Tapp has been a key component of the Dutchmen’s success since then.
“It was a difficult decision,” Tapp said. “I’ve been here 11 years total and nine on Rick’s staff. Union’s a special place. They’re A-plus people, so it was a really tough decision. It felt like it was the right situation and the right time.
“Reid called, and asked if I was interested, we talked a few times just to figure out philosophies and everything else, and it seemed like the right situation and the right time to move away.”
“He’ll do an excellent job there,” Bennett said. “He wore so many hats here that he’ll be well prepared. He’ll have to get used to their recruiting philosophies and admission policies, but that should be seamless. The guys will like him. He’s an up-front straight-shooter guy, and players seem to like that nowadays, which is good.”
In a text, Cashman declined to comment on staff hirings until everything was official.
One connection that helped Tapp make the move to Dartmouth was a mutual friendship he and Cashman share with former Union assistant Joe Dumais, now an associate head coach at Quinnipiac.
Cashman was hired by Dartmouth on June 1 after two seasons as an assistant in the NHL with the Washington Capitals. He replaced Bob Gaudet, who retired. Cashman and Dumais were teammates at Quinnipiac, and Dumais and Tapp are close, since they served on the Union coaching staff together.
There has been interest from other schools to hire Tapp away from Union in recent years, and speaking with Dumais helped him make his decision.
“Reid and I know each other not super-close, but in our circles, in our league and recruiting on the road, when he was at Quinnipiac,” Tapp said. “So that was easy, to call Joe and pick his brain. There wasn’t a whole lot of unknown.
“To learn from somebody else and kind of grow your coaching tree and continue to grow as a coach, that was very intriguing, with all the success he’s [Cashman] had. He’s a really good person, which was key for me because of what I was leaving. I didn’t want to get into a situation where it was anything different from what I had here. We challenge our guys all the time to get out of their comfort zone and be uncomfortable, and I think that’s something I needed as a coach. Be uncomfortable again to grow.”
Tapp, a goalie during his playing days, was particularly focused on that aspect of coaching at Union.
But he expanded his role over the years and was promoted to associate head coach in 2016-17 while working extensively on the recruiting side of the job.
He spent much of Monday and Tuesday calling players, including goalie Darion Hanson, who will be a senior in the fall, to give them the news.
“I’ll be rooting for them for every game they play except the two they play against us,” Tapp said. “I think they’re going to be really good, and I love what they have in the room with their leadership. They’re going to be difficult to play against.
“He [Hanson] was happy for me. Darion and I have a great relationship. We were the same, both happy and sad at the same time. It’s tough to leave. He’s just an A-plus person, so it’s difficult. You form those relationships with guys.”
Tapp, a British Columbia native who gained dual citizenship in the U.S. this year, and his wife, Nicol Lally, have three young children, two daughters and a son.
On Facebook Tuesday, Lally said she would be signing off as an ABC News 10 anchor on July 31.
“Job one is taking care of my family,” Tapp said. “I think everybody’s kind of uncertain here with what’s going to happen in the fall. I believe Union has their plan coming out soon, and I think the Ivy presidents are meeting the end of this week or into next week, so we’ll see what comes out of that.”
Besides the national championship, Tapp said his fondest memories include obvious moments like the Dutchmen’s first Whitelaw Cup in 2012, and the 2016-17, when Mike Vecchione and Spencer Foo scored 63 and 62 points, respectively.
But his answer began with the first moment he stood on the bench at Messa Rink in 2009.
“Just because I was recently wrapped up playing and didn’t really know where I was going to get that excitement back,” he said. “And just being in the rink with that crowd, it gets the hair up the back of your neck. That one sticks out, for sure, my first experience at Messa Rink. I was like, ‘Wow, this is quite the thrill.’
“I think the biggest thing I’ve taken from working with Rick is the honesty that you have to have with your players. I think that’s why our players respect him so much, because it’s honest. The day of playing head games, back in my playing days, probably was a lot more. How Rick manages and holds a standard is impressive. The way he manages the culture and holds those guys accountable, and the expectation of the program and you as a person and everything you represent as a person at Union is impressive, maintaining that standard.”
“I must say I was really fortunate that this is only the second time for a staff change; I feel pretty lucky,” Bennett said. “I saw so much development over Jason’s time, from how he interacted to how comfortable he got over the course of time with the team and team settings.
“The [Dartmouth] players are going to know where he stands. And he’s loyal. In today’s day, I’ll never forget that, and I owe a lot to Jason.”