Who's Next? The Engineer

The Tech Hockey Guide staff brainstormed potential candidates and settled on our top picks. Through the next few weeks we will break down potential candidates while discussing pedigree as a player and coach as well as likelihood of being Coach Pearson’s replacement. Yesterday, we profiled Pat Mikesch. Now, we’re taking an assistant coach that's been in that role at four universities: Umass (Amherst) assistant Ben Barr.

Barr played under Andy Murray at Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Faribault, Minn. before accepting a scholarship out east to play college hockey at Rensselaer for Dan Fridgen. He captained the Engineers as a senior and finished his four-year career with 25 goals and 39 assists in 140 games, earning folk hero status in Troy after scoring two short-handed goals on the same penalty kill to help RPI eliminate arch-rivals Union in the 2003 ECAC tournament.

Details

Age: 35

College: RPI

Birthplace: Faribault, Minnesota

Current Position: Assistant Coach, UMass (Amherst)

Pedigree

After graduating from RPI, Barr became a volunteer assistant coach with the Engineers for the 2004-05 season, and again for the 2007-08 season before taking on an official assistant’s role at Union in 2008. After four strong seasons in Schenectady, he followed Union head coach Nate Leaman to Providence College, and two years later was offered an associate head coaching position under his old high school coach, Andy Murray, at Western Michigan.

This past season, Barr returned to Hockey East as an assistant for new UMass head coach Greg Carvel, and has just finished his 11th season as an assistant on a college hockey bench.

Why

Success seems to be pretty clearly following Barr around the college hockey world, and at this point there’s little doubt that he’s playing a significant role in powering the success at the teams he’s been associated with.

He helped Nate Leaman build Union from a laughingstock afterthought to a league power to, eventually, a national championship a few years after he left. After he followed Leaman to Providence, the Friars landed their first national championship a year after Union’s – again, just after he went elsewhere. Arguably, he and Leaman share the honor of being the architects of back-to-back championships for different teams in 2014 and 2015, an interesting feat.

At Union, Barr helped recruit the core of the 2014 championship team, helping the Dutchmen add six future NHL players, the first (and thus far, only) six of Union’s Division I existence:

  • Keith Kinkaid (NJD)
  • Troy Grosenick (SJ)
  • Daniel Carr (MTL)
  • Jeremy Welsh (CAR, VAN, STL)
  • Josh Jooris (CGY, NYR, ARZ)
  • Shayne Gostisbehere (PHI)

Most of these players were not considered serious NHL prospects until their time at Union, including budding American star Gostisbehere, arguably the greatest player in Union history, who wasn’t even drafted until his breakout freshman year.

He also recruited and/or coached seven All-Americans in Schenectady: Welsh (2012), Grosenick (2012), Mat Bodie (2012 and 2014), Gostisbehere (2014), Carr (2014), Colin Stevens (2014) and Daniel Ciampini (2015).

The track record continued at Providence. Barr was only with the Friars for two seasons, but he helped to put together some of the key components that were the foundation of the 2015 national championship and beyond, including:

  • Brandon Tanev
  • Noel Acciari
  • Jon Gillies
  • Mark Jankowski
  • Jake Walman
  • Nick Saracino

Western Michigan this season rebounded from an 8-win campaign in 2016 to playing in the NCAA tournament. Six of the Broncos’ top seven scorers this season were either freshmen or sophomores. Throw in the 2017 incoming class for UMass being considered among the best in the nation, and it’s difficult to find fault with Barr’s ability to locate and recruit talent that wins hockey games in the NCAA.

Why Not

The lack of head coaching experience seems to be the biggest red flag, as well as the reality that he’s been linked with several open head coaching positions in the last several years without being hired. Ahead of his move to Western Michigan, Barr interviewed for the open spot at Lake Superior State and was a candidate for the vacancy that same offseason at Princeton. Most notably and recently, he was roundly considered the overwhelming favorite to replace Seth Appert at his alma mater last month, but was snubbed in favor of Canisius head coach Dave Smith.

Barr may well feel more at home in the east now as well. In the past 17 years since he went to New York to play college hockey, his two seasons at WMU were the only two that weren’t spent either in New York’s capital area (12 years) or in New England (three). Considering that his move from WMU to UMass involved a slight downgrade from associate head coach to assistant coach, it’s possible he simply prefers being out east.

Review

While Barr's resume is impressive, his lack of head coaching experience and the fact that he has been in the running but ultimately not chosen for multiple openings including his alma mater this offseason leave us to believe that he's just not ready for the opening at Michigan Tech. His apparent preference to work out East also makes it likely that his preference would be to stay out east versus moving to the UP and it is unlikely that this would be a match. Ben Barr may end up being a great head coach, but it does not appear that the stars will align for this to be his opportunity.

Feature image courtesy of WMU Athletics