When student athletes enter high school, they need a coach that can be a mentor for them. For a lucky few, Bob Auriemma was that coach.
Auriemma began coaching hockey in 1962, and became the head ice hockey coach at Brick Township High School in 1964. The program in Brick started as a club team, but quickly earned Varsity status. Since then, Auriemma has gone onto become the state’s all-time ice hockey coaching leader in wins. Auriemma says that becoming a coach was an easy decision for him upon graduating college.
“I graduated from Colby College in Waterville, Maine in 1959, and when I got back to New Jersey, it happened by coincidence that I bumped into Warren Wolf, who was assistant principal at the time, who asked if I wanted to coach football in Brick,” Auriemma explains. “So I interviewed and was accepted for the fall of 1962. And during the fall of 1962, I got involved with the youth program at the Ice Palace [in Brick], and found out that Warren was running an intermural program, so I helped out with that.”
And it took off from there. Auriemma went on to lead Brick to eight Gordon Cup titles, as well as state titles in 1976, 1977, 1976, 1986, 1990, and 1997. Ex-NHL veteran Jim Dowd, who was also a member of the Devils 1995 Stanley Cup championship group, was a member of the 1986 championship squad. He played for Auriemma from 1984 to 1987 at Brick Township High School, is regarded by many as the best high school ice hockey player ever in New Jersey. Dowd considers the experience of playing for Auriemma to be irreplaceable.
“It was amazing because growing up in Brick, in the Brick hockey club, it didn’t matter whether you played on the A or B team as long as you progressed every year,” Dowd says. “And when you got to high school, to make the varsity is what everybody strived for. When I was a kid, the Brick High School team was like the pros to us because you would go to the games and you wanted to play for the Green Dragons and Mr. Auriemma, so it meant the world to me.”
Winning the state championship in 1986 was an amazing experience for Dowd, but winning it while playing for Auriemma made the experience even sweeter.
“It was amazing. To win two Gordon Cups and a state championship, it was unbelievable. It was everything that I wanted as a kid growing up,” Dowd states.
Dowd believes there is no question that Auriemma’s coaching skill was an unprecedented quality in a coach that he played for. But Dowd also believes that coaching wasn’t the only thing that Auriemma had a knack for, as he taught lessons that wouldn’t be instilled on players without the right coach.
“[Bob] taught you self-confidence. He motivated you when you needed to be motivated. He complimented you when you needed to be complimented. But it was not only hockey, it went way beyond hockey. Outside of my family, he’s like a second father to me.” - Jim Dowd“He brought everything. He wasn’t only your coach, but he was your mentor, he was like a father figure. He was a teacher, a coach, he was amazing,” Dowd suggests. “It was similar to the way Lou [Lamoriello] runs the Devils organization – you’re here, it’s all about the team, not about you.”
One may think that coaching the best high school ice hockey player that New Jersey has ever seen may be a tough task, but Auriemma claims that coaching Dowd was a stress-free experience.
“Jim would do whatever you asked him to do and more,” Auriemma reveals. “He was always very inquisitive about learning how to do certain things, and what he needed to work on. When you asked him to do something, he would do it. Jim worked hard at everything. He was not just gifted and that was it.”
Coaching for so many years was something that became a life changing experience for Auriemma, an experience that did not only encompass him, but the people nearest to him as well. He says “it’s become a family event. I’ve coached my children, my grandkids; it’s been a style of life.”
Coaching so many different squads for so many years has allowed Auriemma to become close with his players, making them like family to him. He says he misses his former players after their departure from high school. He describes it as “a family going off to college or wherever else they’re going.”
In 2010, Auriemma was recognized for his accomplishments, as he was inducted into the New Jersey High School Ice Hockey Hall of Fame, an experience that was very humbling for him, but also something for which he doesn’t take full credit for. He attributes his accomplishments to the great people he has worked with during his career.
“I appreciated it a lot, being recognized and such, but there are a lot of good coaches who helped the success we had at Brick, there are a lot of volunteers and helpers and such,” Auriemma discloses. “I shouldn’t take the accolades just for myself, but I do appreciate it.”
The achievements that put Auriemma into the New Jersey High School Ice Hockey Hall of Fame went far beyond coaching. Dowd believes that learning from Auriemma taught him life lessons that made him a better person, and could not be more satisfied with what his high school coach provided him with.
“The most important thing he taught us was hard work,” Dowd believes. “Work hard and listen. Be a student with everything you do. Way beyond hockey, like I said. Be a good student in class, be a good student if you’re a hockey player, in other sports. I can’t say enough good things about him. He’s a great man.”
For more, head to NJ Youth Hockey Central.