Wednesday, June 17, 2015

UNH Preparing To Name Alum Mike Souza as Associate Head Coach

Associate Head Coach
Mike Souza
"I can tell you Mike Souza has a great personality and as (UNH Athletic Director) Marty Scarano has said, he is the "mayor" and that is important at UNH. He is a good communicator which would, I believe, make him successful both with the team and as a recruiter. He is basically family with Coach Umile and that would help him in their work together." Coach Scott Borek, Providence College (personal communication).
It's no secret that UNH Hockey Head Coach Dick Umile is preparing to name Mike Souza, a 2000 alum, as the new Associate Head Coach. According to ESPN anchor John Buccigross, the official announcement will come sometime this week. The position became available on June 5th when Scott Borek left to join Nate Leaman at Providence College as their Associate Head Coach.

The 37-year-old Souza (DOB: 1/28/1978) has coached for the last two seasons at the University of Connecticut. He was initially hired as an assistant coach by UConn Head Coach Mike Cavanaugh and was promoted to UConn Associate Head Coach two months ago.

According to multiple sources, Mike Souza was Coach Umile's top choice to replace Coach Borek. Their relationship dates back to the mid-1990's when Souza was a star at Wakefield (MA) High School and Coach Umile recruited him to play at UNH. The 1996 graduate scored 97 goals and 107 assists in three seasons and was inducted into the Wakefield Warriors' Athletic Hall of Fame in 2009.

Over the last week, there has been speculation that Mike Souza would eventually replace Coach Umile upon his retirement. This speculation was sparked by Mike Anthony, who covers UConn hockey for the Hartford Courant. On June 10th, he tweeted that according to sources, Souza would be "named associate, and head coach in waiting, under Umile at UNH". Needless to say, it will be interesting to see if the official announcement of Souza's hiring addresses this subject.

Whether or not Mike Souza becomes the "head coach in waiting", it is clear that he and Coach Umile have developed a close relationship over the years. As Coach Borek said, Mike Souza "is basically family with Coach Umile". A review of Souza's playing and coaching career provides insight into the nature of their relationship.

UNH #7 Mike Souza
1999 Frozen Four
Long-time UNH fans will remember Souza as the top scorer in the 1999 Frozen Four in Anaheim where the Wildcats lost a heartbreaker in overtime to the University of Maine. Souza scored the crucial game-tying goal in the third period of the Championship Game. He also scored 2 goals in UNH's semifinal win over Michigan State. Souza, along with Jason Krog and Jayme Filipowicz, were named to the 1999 All-Tournament Team (see Associated Press photo).

In his four-year career at UNH, Mike Souza played in 156 games and scored 66 goals and 90 assists. In his sophomore season, he tallied 25 points for the 1997-98 team that advanced to the Frozen Four. Souza was the Wildcats' captain in his senior year and was named a Hockey East Second Team All-Star. A 2000 interview with Allen Lessells provides some insight into the early stage of Souza's relationship with Coach Umile:
"(Coach Umile) does a good job of picking his spots. Whether it's individually, going one-on-one with someone or constructive criticism for the whole team. To be a good coach I think you have to pick your spots. Our coaching staff does a good job with that, and it obviously comes from him. The guy bleeds blue and white. It's amazing. Sometimes he gets so into it in the pre-game talk that it's funny. But it's great. It's something you kind of want everyone to see once."

Souza's Professional Playing Career

Soon after Mike Souza finished his freshman season at UNH, he was selected by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 3rd Round of the 1997 NHL Entry Draft. Souza was the 67th overall selection - the same as Warren Foegele in the 2014 NHL Draft. After graduation, Souza played left wing for the Norfolk Admirals, the Blackhawks' AHL affiliate, for two years. In his third AHL season, he was traded to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Over that span, Souza averaged 14 goals and 15 assists per season.

After two more seasons of splitting time with AHL and ECHL teams, Souza went to Germany and Switzerland to play professionally in the 2005-06 season. He then played five seasons in Italy-A, the top professional league in Italy. He lead SG Cortina in scoring during their 2006-07 Championship season. Souza also played for the Italian National Team in the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships from 2008-2011. The highlight was 2010 when Souza lead Team Italy in scoring (1g, 4a) as they competed in the Elite Division of the IIHF Championship. Former UNH star Stevie Moses and Team USA recently won the bronze medal in the 2015 edition of this prestigious tournament.

Souza's Coaching Experience

The backstory of Mike Souza's transition from playing to coaching, described by Dan Guttenplan in the New England Hockey Journal, sheds more light on his 20-year relationship with UNH Head Coach Dick Umile. By the end of the 2010-11 season in Italy, Souza realized his playing career was coming to a close and, with a wife and two young daughters, he needed to make a career decision. He sought advice from Coach Umile:
"He was pretty frank with me about the ups and downs (of coaching). Coming from playing I realized I'd have to grind it out for a program in a transition phase. (Umile) was one of the most influential people in my life, and I wanted to be like him. Here's a guy year after year who has a tremendous amount of pressure on him, and he has a stoic nature to him. He doesn't let the kids know what's going on behind the scenes."
Coach Umile referred Souza to Brown University Assistant Coach Mark White, a former teammate and roommate of Mike's at UNH. White, in turn, recommended Souza to Head Coach Brendan Whittet for the vacant assistant job at Brown. Souza was hired and spent the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons with the Brown Bears. His primary responsibilities included recruiting, coaching the forwards and overseeing the power play. Coach Whittet credited Souza with "having a keen eye for talent and an ability to connect with recruits of all backgrounds." Near the end of Souza's second season with Brown, Whittet offered this glowing assessment:
"I think he has all the traits to be a head coach. He's a guy that really gets it. He understands kids. He puts in the work. Obviously you have to pay your dues like all of us have. There has to be some ability to translate overseeing an organization from being an assistant. That's a reality for Mike. I'm so excited he's part of our staff; he's invaluable to Brown hockey."
Around this time, Coach Umile said this about Souza:
"Mike has a tremendous personality. People enjoy him, and he's a great competitor. He was a great player and he did a lot for the program, on and off the ice. He's quickly become very well-respected in college-coaching circles."
In May, 2013, the University of Connecticut took a bold step in its preparation for joining Hockey East with the hiring of Boston College Assistant Mike Cavanaugh to be their head coach. A month later, Coach Cavanaugh hired Mike Souza to be his assistant coach at UConn. For the past two seasons, Souza has been primarily responsible for coordinating the Huskies' power play and directing the team's recruiting.

Less than two months ago, Coach Cavanaugh promoted Souza to the position of associate head coach. In the official announcement, Cavanaugh said:
"I am pleased to announce that Mike Souza has been promoted to Associate Head Coach at the University of Connecticut. Mike's extensive playing experience and coaching skills continue to enhance our program. He was an integral part of our success competing in our first year in Hockey East and will continue to be a key part of the growth of this program."

3 Former UNH Captains - 3 UNH Coaches

With Mike Souza on board, the UNH men's hockey coaching staff would be comprised of three former team captains and members of the UNH Century Club. Coach Umile captained the 1971-72 squad and scored 144 points in three seasons (freshmen were not allowed to play varsity hockey). Associate Head Coach Glenn Stewart, who is 44 years old and was hired by Umile last August, was the Wildcats' Alternate Captain in the 1993-94 season. Stewart scored 102 points in four seasons before embarking on a 9-year professional playing career.

Mike Souza's return to his alma mater as the Associate Head Coach of the UNH Wildcats would also be a home-coming, of sorts, for his wife Kelly. The couple met at UNH and she played for the UNH women's hockey team. The love of hockey is spread throughout their extended family. Kelly's sister Krissy played hockey for Brown University. Her other sister Kim is married to Chris Bourque who plays in the AHL and is Hall-of-Famer Ray Bourque's son. Mike Souza is the cousin of former UNH star and current AHLer Paul Thompson.


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