Do I wish the Wildcats had managed one more goal in Anaheim in 1999? Of course I do. A national championship would have been a fitting centerpiece to the iconic coaching career of Dick Umile. But to focus on the lack of a title would be to overlook the incredible legacy of this UNH legend.
When Umile took over behind the bench before the 1990-91 season, UNH men’s hockey hadn’t had a winning season in seven years. The once-proud program was moribund. This changed immediately under Umile, who would go on during his 28 seasons to appear in the NCAA tournament 18 times, with four Frozen Four appearances and two title game berths. His 598 career wins are 14th all time in men’s college hockey (all those ranked above him coached 30 or more seasons). Umile was Hockey East Coach of the Year a record six times.
My favorite memories of Wildcat hockey date from my undergraduate days. My freshman year at UNH was the last year of Snively Arena, that lovable old shed. During my junior year we opened the Whittemore Center, and my senior year of 1996-97 saw a 28-win squad that won Hockey East. I was serving as Student Body President then, and had occasion to interact with Coach Umile several times. He was unfailingly gracious and friendly, even when I moonlighted a couple of times in the WUNH student radio booth as an amateur play-by-play guy.
As a Wildcat alum himself who played for the legendary Charlie Holt, Umile always understood how important UNH hockey was to the student body and alumni. I spent a few years as a student member of the athletic advisory committee, and I can clearly recall before the Whitt opened, sitting with Umile and then-men’s athletic director Gib Chapman, a diagram of the under-construction arena in front of us. With blue and red markers we determined where the student seating would be. It was a negotiation, the administration wanting to be able to sell as many good seats as possible to help defray the debt service on the new building. My argument was that every student was paying $99 every year toward the mortgage, whether they ever went to a game or not, so we deserved our share of those good seats. Umile weighed in on the side of the students, citing the competitive value of a loud and vibrant student fan base. The resulting agreement is still in place now, with opposing goalies hunkering down in a cave of vocal UNH student abuse two out of three periods every game.
I’m sorry that Dick never did win it all, both as a fan and as a fellow alum. But the lack of hardware doesn’t diminish what he did accomplish. I’m thankful for his 28 years of excellence and for his friendship with student leadership. He was a great Wildcat.