Friday, July 10, 2015

Mike Souza Named UNH Associate Head Coach

UNH Associate Head Coach
Mike Souza

It's official - UNH head coach Dick Umile has announced the hiring of former UNH star and captain Mike Souza as the new Associate Head Coach. The 37-year-old Souza (DOB: 1/28/1978) was Coach Umile's top choice to fill the vacancy created when Scott Borek left UNH to join Nate Leaman at Providence College as their Associate Head Coach. The hiring of Mike Souza has been in the works since early June.

Souza 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. Last week, Coach Cavanaugh told the Hartford Courant that he believes Sousa will become the UNH head coach when Umile retires:
"He's going to his alma mater and he's going to work for a coach I have the utmost respect for. Dick Umile, when you look at not only his success as a hockey coach, but how he mentors his players, he's a coach I can honestly say truly cares about every kid who comes through his program. Mike couldn't have a better mentor over the next couple of years before he takes over as head coach. It's a wonderful opportunity and I'm really happy for him. It will be a seemless transition when Dick decides to retire. I told Dick I would support it if they were going to move him to head coach. Dick said, 'That's our plan.' I was very happy. I have a great relationship with Dick. He's an upfront, honest guy. I know he cares about Mike like a son."
In today's announcement, Coach Umile did not address his retirement or the possibility of Coach Souza replacing him as head coach.

The relationship between Dick Umile and Mike Souza dates back to the mid-1990's when Umile recruited him to play at UNH. At the time, Souza was a star hockey player at Wakefield (MA) High School. In the late 1960's, Umile had been a high school hockey and football star in the neighboring town of Melrose, MA. Souza graduated from Wakefield High in 1996. He scored 97 goals and 107 assists in three seasons and was inducted into the Wakefield Warriors' Athletic Hall of Fame in 2009.

In the story of UNH's 40-year quest to win the NCAA Division I Ice Hockey National Championship, the most compelling chapter involves Coach Umile and his star player Mike Souza. On April 3, 1999, Souza drew the UNH Men's hockey program as close to the National Championship as it has ever been. Umile was in his ninth season as head coach and his first line of Mike Souza (left wing), Jason Krog (center), and Darren Haydar (right wing) was the top scoring line in the country with a combined total of 86 goals. Entering the third period of the 1999 championship game in Anaheim, California, the University of Maine lead UNH 2-1. Just over three minutes into the final period of regulation, Haydar (#20) intercepted a clearing effort in the corner to the right of Maine goalie Alfie Michaud and back-handed a pass behind the net to Hobey Baker winner Jason Krog (#28). Krog one-timed his 51st assist of the season to a wide-open Mike Souza in the low slot. Souza banged the puck over Michaud's right pad for the game-tying goal.

For the remaining 16 minutes and 30 seconds of regulation and more than 10 minutes into overtime, UNH sought the elusive game-winning goal which would have earned them the first National Championship. But it wasn't to be. Marcus Gustafsson beat All-American goalie Ty Conklin at the 10:50 mark of overtime. For the last 16 years, diehard UNH fans have been left to wonder what might have been.

Mike Souza had also scored 2 goals in UNH's 1999 semifinal win over Michigan State. He lead all scorers in the Frozen Four games with 6 points. Souza, along with Jason Krog and Jayme Filipowicz, were named to the 1999 All-Tournament Team.

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.

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 is 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. UNH qualified for the NCAA Tournament in Stewart's sophomore and senior seasons. 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 is also a home-coming, of sorts, for his wife Kelly. The couple met at UNH and she played for the UNH women's hockey team. Kelly has coached hockey and lacrosse at St. Mary Bay View Academy in East Providence, RI. The Sousa's have two daughters, Ella and Ava. 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 New Jersey/Albany Devils' forward Paul Thompson.


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