Joe Dumais dreamed about being a hockey coach ever since he was kid growing up in Auburn, Maine. He’s been living out that dream for the past six years as an assistant coach with two different NCAA Division I programs.
Tonight, Dumais begins a new, albeit, temporary chapter in his coaching career.
Dumais starts a four-game stint as Union College acting head coach when the fourth-ranked and ECAC Hockey-leading Dutchmen travel to the North Country to face St. Lawrence tonight at 7 and 15th-ranked Clarkson at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Dumais, who is in his third season as an assistant coach with Union (10-2 ECACH, 16-5-3 overall), will run the team for head coach Rick Bennett. Bennett was suspended four games for his actions at the end of last Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in the Mayor’s Cup. Bennett charged after RPI coach Seth Appert, and appeared to punch Engineers center Milos Bubela as he was keeping Appert away from Bennett.
Bennett got a two-game suspension, without pay, from the school on Sunday. The league added two more games on Wednesday. Bennett won’t travel with the team this weekend.
Not playing this weekend for the Dutchmen is defenseman and team captain Mat Bodie, who got a two-game suspension. Missing tonight’s game with one-game suspensions are center Eli Lichtenwald and left winger Daniel Ciampini.
The 31-year-old Dumais, who will be helped by assistant coach Jason Tapp and volunteer assistant coach John Ronan, is approaching the next four games with a business-as-usual approach.
“We’ve got great leaders on this team,” Dumais said. “Obviously, Rick does a great job. It’s his program. I’m just stepping in. [Alternate captains] Cole Ikkala, Dan Carr and Shayne Gostisbehere are going to be big helps this weekend. It’s going to run itself.
“Nothing’s going to change.”
Dumais played college hockey at Quinnipiac from 2002-06, and was the team captain his senior season, when the Bobcats made their ECACH debut. After graduation, Dumais attended Ohio University and earned a master’s of science in recreation and sport sciences with a focus on coaching education. While at Ohio, Dumais was as an assistant coach for the men’s ice hockey team.
In 2007, Dumais joined the North American Hockey League’s Mahoning Valley Phantoms as an assistant coach. He got his first Division I assistant coaching job with Connecticut of Atlantic Hockey in 2008.
“I’ve always wanted to be a coach since I was little,” Dumais said. “It’s always what I’ve dreamed about doing. It’s a dream come true for me.”
Shortly after Bennett was promoted from associate head coach to head coach in April 2011, following the departure of Nate Leaman to Providence, Bennett was at the college coaches convention in Naples, Fla., interviewing candidates for vacancies that he had. A lot of his fellow coaches highly recommended Dumais.
“A couple of guys within his league said, ‘Could you please get him out of our league?’ ” Bennett said. “I felt that was the highest compliment that anybody could ever have coming from the league. Right there and then, I said that’s the kind of guy you want to hire. He came in, he did a phenomenal job in his interview.
Everybody was very impressed. His hockey knowledge was an exceptional.
“He’s helped us out in providing recruiting capabilities. He’s an excellent recruiter, that speaks for itself. Him and Jason Tapp have a great rapport. They had it with [former volunteer assistant] Joel Beal. They have it with John Ronan. He’s a likeable guy. That says a lot.”
Ikkala has been impressed with Dumais, and the team has confidence in him.
“He’s a great coach. He has a lot of pull around here,” Ikkala said. “A lot of Saturday night games, he gets the reins. He makes the call. He makes the pregame speeches. He’s perfectly capable of handling this. He scouts for us. Going into this weekend, nothing will change.”
Bennett envisions Dumais becoming a head coach.
“No doubt,” Bennett said. “There’s not a question in my mind that he’s not a head coach.”
While he would like to run his own program one day, Dumais isn’t worried about his future right now. The focus is on keeping the Dutchmen playing well and on a quest for the Cleary Cup regular-season title.
“I’m in a great spot,” Dumais said. “I love working for Rick and working with Jason and John. I’m extremely happy at Union. I’m not even thinking of anything like that.”
Union is 8-1 in its last nine ECACH games, and 13-2-1 in its last 16 games overall. . . .
After being ranked 17th in the Nov. 11 USCHO.com/NCAA hockey top-20 poll, St. Lawrence (2-7-3, 8-13-3) has been on a tailspin. The Saints are 0-8-1 in their last nine games, including an 0-7-1 mark in ECACH games.