The Mack Report

Brent Hill Set for USA Hockey Duty

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Brent Hill has been scouring the U.S. and Canada for more than a year now, helping construct Merrimack’s inaugural women’s ice hockey team, which is set to make its debut in 2015. Along with head coach Erin Hamlen, Hill has been everywhere from Minnesota to British Columbia, and almost everywhere in between.

Ed. Note: This story will appear in a future edition of The Eagle Tribune

But he’ll take a break from his duties as assistant coach in August in order to make his debut with USA Hockey. Hill was selected to join Joel Johnson’s staff at the upcoming 2014 Women’s Under-18 Series in Calgary and the 2015 Women’s Under-18 Championships in Buffalo early next year.

“It was an honor,” said Hill, when reached on a recruiting trip in Minnesota. “It’s a great opportunity for me to coach alongside some great coaches in Joel Johnson (Minnesota) and Katie Lachapelle (Boston University). I’m really looking forward to the competition. Right now I know that it goes through these two tournaments, and then we’ll see. It would be great if it could continue. This is Katie’s second year on the team, I believe, so it would be great to have it continue on. I’m just really looking forward to working with two great coaches and being a part of the program.”

Hill’s appointment has fueled an already already palpable buzz about Merrimack’s debuting program. News of the startup last year quickly began making news in women’s hockey hotbeds, including Minnesota. With Merrimack represented on the Under-18 team, it should only help increase that awareness.

“That’s my hope,” Hill said. “At first, the questions a lot of elite players would have when we talked to them was, ‘are you guys for real?’ We are a new program. I think some families were nervous about our commitment to being around for the long term. We had to gain players’ trust. We don’t have the history that other programs do. I’m hoping something like coaching for USA Hockey will have a positive effect on our program. Erin was very supportive of it, she has a great history with USA Hockey, and I’m hoping that players see that Merrimack is represented by having one of their coaches affiliated with the Under-18 team, it hopefully helps us earn more trust among prospective players that we are for real.”

Hamlen has several appearances as a coach on the national level. In 2005-06, she spent a year as an assistant coach on the USA Hockey Women’s Select and National Teams, which earned a silver medal in the Women’s World Championships. In 2007-08, she served in the same role as Hill as an assistant coach with the USA Hockey’s U-18 Select Team, which won the United States’ first U-18 gold medal.

That recognition around the country is something Merrimack is building. It’s something Hill had when he was an assistant at RPI.

“There are definitely differences in recruiting,” he said.

Hill has been working USA Hockey festivals and camps for the past seven years.

Hill and Hamlen have been on the road nearly non-stop since the announcement. Minnesota is a traditional pipeline for most programs, as is most of Canada. But Hill says the Warriors are also keeping a close tab on local players as well as potential transfers.

“You never know what might open up in the transfer market,” he said. “When recruiting players, the real top-end talent, it is a little tougher in New England. It goes back to history, we don’t have the history some of the other programs in our area have. That’s okay, we’re building our history.

“We’re actually almost done with our first year, in terms of recruiting. We’re starting to work on the following years. It’s been busy, for sure. There are certain places I’ve been to three or four times now. The good news for us is that everyone we’ve talked to has been interested. They’re asking questions about the school, and from what we’ve found is that Merrimack is really an attractive place for players.”

One of the first recruits Merrimack signed on was sold on the campus alone.

“We had one girl who we brought in for a visit, and I knew she was looking at some bigger schools so I didn’t think we had a shot,” Hill said. “A few days later she called and committed. She said that Merrimack was just the place she felt most at home. The small community, the small school atmosphere, that’s what sold her. That’s something unique that we can offer students.”