Jun 11, 2024
Olivia Boudreau

Win From Within: All-Alumni Coaching Staff Key to Men’s Ice Hockey Success

Robert Holyoke '22, Nick Blanchette '12, Michael Looney '12 MBA '13, Robert Roche '20

For the entire Assumption men’s ice hockey coaching staff, winning the Northeast-10 Conference Championship this season was about so much more than bringing home a trophy. It was about cultivating a family and giving back to a collegiate and athletic community that they themselves had each been transformed by as a student-athlete. 

The 2023-24 team is unique in the sense that each member of the coaching staff is also an alumnus of Assumption and the Greyhounds ice hockey program. Head Coach Michael Looney ‘12 MBA ‘13 and Assistant Coaches Nick Blanchette ‘12, Robert Holyoke ‘22, and Robert Roche ‘20 each started their career with the Greyhounds on the ice, but now feel inspired to continue advancing the program from behind the bench.  

“Being able to come back to a program that did so much for me as a player…I hope I can return what they did for me 10 times over for the future,” said Holyoke. “I learned a lot from my playing days, most importantly, just keep working.”

“I learned a lot as a student athlete at Assumption, and playing with the Worcester Railers,” said Roche. “There are many things I wish I had known during my playing days, which I now emphasize to our players…On the ice, I try to fine tune our guys to limit their mistakes and create opportunities offensively that lead us to scoring chances. Off the ice, I had a lot of conversations with the guys to create that bond that really kept our team together, and to try to keep guys positive if they were having a bad couple of weeks.”

For Looney and Blanchette, who between being teammates, classmates, and roommates spent nearly all of the time in their undergrad years at Assumption together, the special relationships they are able to create with each other, the coaching staff, and the players are fundamental elements of creating a successful team.

Looney (left) and Blanchette (right) during their time on Assumption’s Ice Hockey team.

“I have the unique privilege of being able to coach with one of my best friends,” said Blanchette. “We’ve known each other since high school, played hockey together and were roommates while at Assumption…I feel like part of my role is being a bit of a ‘yin to his yang’ and providing another set of eyes to help him out when it comes to certain decisions.”

“The fact that I get to coach alongside one of my best friends is something we both cherish. I know it transcends to our current and future teams when they see that bond because this program is about the people that make it great,” said Looney.  “It’s about guys being in each other’s weddings, being like a second uncle to their children, being there for a teammate during the loss of a loved one, and even gathering in the company of friends across the globe.”

The pair have been instrumental in inspiring the men’s ice hockey program’s growth and success in the last 15 years. In the 2009-10 season, Looney and Blanchette, both sophomores at the time, helped lead Assumption to its first ever appearance in the NE10 Championship game. Seven years later, in the 2016-17 season, the roommates-turned co-coaches again had the Greyhounds in the championship game, this time winning the program its first NE10 title. 

For Holyoke and Roche, who each won an NE10 championship with the Greyhounds as players, getting to help coach the team to ultimate victory was just as special.

Holyoke (left) and Roche (right) on the ice during their time on Assumption’s Ice Hockey team.

“It was a unique experience,” said Roche. “As a player, your focus tends to be more on your individual performance and how you can contribute to the team’s success. Coaching requires you to view the team holistically. Nonetheless, winning a championship has the same feeling, whether as a player or as a coach.”

“Having won a championship my senior season, I had a better understanding of what it takes to be a championship team,” said Holyoke. “Around the game 6 or 7 mark of this season I saw something in our team that made me truly believe we had the capability to do it again. In all honesty I think I was happier for this team this year; for the 5th-years who came back, the seniors who aren’t returning, and the rest of the players to have the taste of it.”

This year’s championship is the second title for the Greyhounds in the last three years, their third overall (2016-17, 2021-22, 2023-24).

“It feels amazing to have been a part of this championship as a coach. As former players, our coaching staff understands what our guys are going through on and off the ice, as well as the amount of hard work and dedication they put in to be successful,” said Blanchette. “Everyone involved is dedicated to doing their part to help the team have success. There’s no better feeling than watching our guys see the fruits of their labor pay off.” 

“Anytime you win a championship, it’s a bond you will have with the team for the rest of your life, a team that lives on forever,” said Looney. “But for this season – to win the Woo Cup, Regular Season Championship, and NE10 Championship – it was magical.”

The coaches agreed, however, that some of the most rewarding parts of their season occurred off the ice, like spending quality time together with the team, who all became more like family.

“I would say some of the standout moments this season were mostly not on game days,” said Holyoke. “Watching the team become a family…even on the worst days, they were all there for each other. There was never an ‘I’ or a ‘me’ moment, everything was about the team, the family.”

The 2023-2024 Assumption Men’s Ice Hockey Team after winning the NE10 Championship.

“I think the moments that stand out to me are the little things like team meals (with post-meal karaoke), the bus rides and hearing the joy the guys shared for each other’s company,” said Looney. “We had a couple big wins on the road at St. Anselm and then at St. Michael’s, and just seeing young men engage with one another, not looking at phones or glued to screens, but genuinely bonding and breaking bread with everyone and anyone on the team, stood out.”

Blanchette even said that the off-ice development and bonding is his favorite part of being a coach in general, a testament to the strength of the program the coaches have developed together. 

“My favorite part of coaching, especially being able to coach at my alma mater, is watching our players develop and mature over the course of their collegiate careers. Success on the ice is great, but ultimately our goal is to help our players grow both as players on the ice and as people off the ice,” he said. “Above all else, my primary goal is to hopefully provide a positive influence in that maturation process and help teach our guys life lessons that will translate to success in all aspects of their lives.” 

A Lifelong Greyhound: Head Coach Michael Looney’s Journey

Next season, Looney will enter his tenth year coaching at Assumption. His journey at the University, however, has spanned almost his entire life. His mother, also an Assumption alum, worked at Assumption for over 30 years, and Looney grew up visiting her and attending recreational sports camps on campus. Looney then received his undergraduate degree in English in 2012 and his Master of Business Administration in 2013. 

“The reality is Assumption has been a second home my entire life and will always be. I was welcomed into the Assumption community for as long as I can remember,” said Looney.

Looney being celebrated after the NE10 Championship win.

Looney noted that his success, along with the success of others at Assumption, can be attributed to the enduring strengths and impact of Catholic liberal education. 

“I think one of the coolest statistics our program, and university, can promote is that the current President was a professor to a head coach,” Looney said. “In the fall of 2011, I was fortunate to take an American government course with a new political science professor named Greg Weiner. To go from professor to President in a dozen years and to go from student athlete to head coach of a championship-winning team during that same time shows the impact of a Catholic liberal education.” 

Looney continues to credit his Assumption education as an influential force in his ongoing development as a person and coach. 

“We grow organically and the education is enduring. It does not stop after graduation; it is a lifelong journey that we are all constantly trying to develop even when we reach the pinnacle positions of President or Head Coach,” said Looney.  “That is a statistic that speaks volumes. Over the last decade there has been substantial change to the high education industry. As President Weiner said during his inauguration: ‘there are two reasons for confidence in Assumption. One is what is changing. The second is what never will.’” 

Looney’s coaching career did not begin at Assumption, but rather at a competitor school, where he coached for two years until taking a full-time job as a sales consultant. Soon after, though, in 2014, Coach Lance Brady, whom Looney had played for during his time at Assumption, reached out to Looney with a coaching opportunity.

“I wasn’t sure I would ever coach again at the college level,” Looney said. “I jumped at the opportunity to coach alongside the same person I had the privilege of playing for.”

Along with the Championship, Looney himself also won the 2023-24 NE-10 Coach of the Year honor, named the “Lance ‘Duke’ Brady Coach of the Year Award,” in honor of Looney’s former mentor. According to the NE10 website, Looney is the first Assumption coach to win this honor since Brady himself in the 2017-2018 season. 

“There is no one better to lead this program than Coach Looney,” said Blanchette. “He has an unmatched dedication to this school and program. What you see is what you get with him, and that is a 100 percent genuine dedication to improving the program, helping our players develop as people, trying to provide our guys with the best collegiate hockey experience possible.” 

The coaches celebrating the team’s NE10 Championship win.

“None of this could have been accomplished without the efforts of our players, their parents and most importantly the other three coaches on our staff,” said Holyoke. “Coach Looney and Coach Blanchette taught me a lot about coaching and life in general this season. Having as tight of a group we have, from the players, to the coaches, to the parents, is all a part of the environment we preach. They are a major part of why we won this season.”

What makes the coaching staff the most special is the fact that they have all been in the same position as their players, both on and off the ice. Each of the coaches have worn the same colors their players wear now, sat in the same classrooms, and lived in the same residence halls, creating a rare program environment where coaches can truly connect with the experiences of their players. 

“Regardless of the outcome at the end of every season, it’s a privilege to be a part of the program and to be able to give back to the community that helped me develop as a player and a person,” said Blanchette. “I truly believe that the reason we have a coaching staff that are all alumni of the school is because we cherish the relationships and experiences we’ve forged during our involvement with Assumption and the hockey program.”