By Tris Wykes
If you list the NCAA Division I men’s hockey teams to have qualified for the national tournament, the one with the longest drought at returning to the event is Dartmouth College.
Not since 1980 has the Big Green reached that stage and the man now charged with helping it do so is Reid Cashman. Hired as the program’s 22nd head coach on June 1, the former Quinnipiac star spent the past two seasons as an NHL assistant with the Washington Capitals. He was an American Hockey League assistant for two years before joining the Capitals and began his coaching career at his alma mater.
Replacing 23-year coach Bob Gaudet will be a challenge. A new outlook, however, doesn’t seem bad. Dartmouth staggered out of the 2019-20 season after being upset in the first round of the ECAC tournament by last-place Princeton. There was a sense that the program had become stale.
The Big Green last advanced to the conference tournament semifinals in 2016 and has done so only twice during the last 13 seasons. A program that produced a slew of NHL players roughly a decade ago hasn’t had a skater at that level since 2015.
Octopus Athletics spoke with Cashman, 37, by phone as he drove from Hanover to his family’s home in Windham, N.H., where his wife, Stefanie, grew up.
OA: You’re from Red Wing, Minn., known as a hockey hotbed in a state obsessed with the sport. Were you a standout there?
RC: I was really a late bloomer. I was playing in the (junior) United States Hockey League at 20 and Quinnipiac and Wayne State were the only schools to offer me a scholarship. I just thought it would be a good chance to get a college degree and it turned into so much more.
OA: What was Dartmouth’s allure?
RC: I wanted to be a college head coach and those jobs don’t open very often. I also wanted to go someplace you can compete and win, but I didn’t know Dartmouth was that kind of place for a fact until I went through the interview process and met the people here.
They’re putting desire behind the program and want to emulate what football has done and win championships. And we want to raise our family in a small town and be part of the community. We built a house in Windham a couple years ago to spend the offseason and we’re looking for a home (in the Upper Valley).
OC: Thompson Arena opened in 1975 and has stood the test of time well. It could also use new seats, a video scoreboard, another press box. Are you concerned about funding for such things and your program as a whole?
RC: Thompson has great ice and sightlines and when there are people in it, it’s a great place to play. There are conversations going on about a video board, because we understand how that would totally change the environment.
Half a million dollars was put into the (home) locker room not long ago and I know our (booster) group has raised more money than it ever has. Our recruiting will not be limited by money and that’s the biggest component – to be able to bring kids in and show them how beautiful Dartmouth is.
OC: Attendance at Dartmouth games has dropped significantly in recent years. How do you fix it?
RC: You gotta win, because that’s the biggest thing that draws fans. At Quinnipiac, we had a rink that was three or four years old and it wasn’t full. Then we made the NCAAs and all of a sudden it became a very popular place.
We have to finish in the ECAC top four and go to the NCAAs. This is a team that finished in fifth place last season and has an unbelievable foundation. We want to get over the hump and the NCAAs is that hump. We hope we can push this team forward with ideas we’ve had from other stops.
OC: What’s the pitch to recruits?
RC: Kids want to get a degree, compete for championships and play pro hockey when they’re done. I’ll put our staff up against anyone in the nation in terms of player development.
(Assistant coach) Jason Tapp won a national championship at Union and (assistant) Stavros Paskaris has put a number of Princeton guys into the NHL. I’m just coming from working two years in the best league in the world. Developing young players is my strength and it’s what we’re going to be about.
OC: Quinnipiac has successfully mined Western Canada for talent during the last decade. Will we see more Dartmouth players from that area?
RC: You need to have the relationships and ability to go everywhere. We’re not going to be limited to a certain region. But there’s no question we had success at Quinnipiac in British Columbia and Alberta, so that will be one spot.
I still have Minnesota connections and Stavros is from Michigan and Ontario is a strength of his. Plus, the Northeast and down to New Jersey has been pretty good for Dartmouth lately.
OC: What are players and coaches undertaking now and how do things look for the near future?
RC: Ivy League games can’t start before Jan. 1 so we’re preparing with the assumption the season will start then. All 27 guys are on campus and Oct. 12 is scheduled to be our first day on the ice.
We’re starting with strength and conditioning and phase two would be on the ice in groups of 10 or less. Phase three would be three (on-ice) groups of nine and each group would be in a different locker room. They won’t cross paths off the ice and they’d leave the rink sweaty and shower away from it.
The final decision on when to start the season, (the Ivy League) is going to wait as long as it can so it can see what the health situation is. But the Dartmouth administration has done everything it can to allow us to be a team and prepare for the season.
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