Climbing The Coaching Ladder

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Climbing the coaching ladder

Both competing on the ice and coaching from the sidelines, Bob Prier is very familiar with the world of ECAC hockey. Currently in his first year as head coach of the men’s hockey team, he joined the Tigers staff with the mission of helping Princeton remain among the elite teams in the ECAC. Former head coach Guy Gadowsky, who retired last year to lead the charge at Penn State, developed and improved the Princeton hockey program that entered this season with the best five-year run in team history.

At age 35, Prier is the youngest head coach in Division I hockey. His early start with coaching came about following a spinal injury in his third game playing for the Pee Dee Pride in South Carolina, a minor league professional team. Though his playing career was cut short, his dedication to the game of hockey was only solidified as he began to contribute to the game from the other side — as a coach.

“I wanted to play as long as I could, and I did that,” Prier said. “I fell into the coaching part and loved it right away and was very passionate about it. This job doesn’t feel like work — I look forward to it everyday. A profession with the opportunity to get results and to improve and develop yourself and your players is amazing.”

Prier began his coaching career right away. After one year as a player’s agent and one year volunteering as an assistant at the University of Denver, he then found himself in his first paid position as a Princeton assistant coach in 2001-02. Prier acknowledged that this experience with Ivy League play and recruiting is of great value to him now and was part of the appeal when he accepted his current head coaching spot.

“I was familiar with the league, the coaches and the commissioner,” Prier said. “I understood the ins and outs of the ECAC. It helped me tremendously. I am grateful that I was able to play in such a great league and to coach in it.”

In 2002, Prier returned to his alma mater, St. Lawrence, where he worked as a dedicated member of their coaching staff for nine seasons both as an assistant and an associate head coach. He had the honor of working with many accomplished teams during his time, earning three 21-plus winning seasons, an ECAC regular season championship and an NCAA tournament appearance in 2006-07. Working with the Saints head coach, Joe Marsh — a college hockey legend — taught Prier a great deal. He has adopted Marsh’s coaching ideals of playing with honesty and passion, working hard and never taking the easy way out. During his time at St. Lawrence, Prier also earned a Masters in Education.

The first St. Lawrence degree Prier earned was in 1999 in the economics department. He captained the 1999 ECAC runner-up and NCAA Tournament hockey team. He led the Saints both in scoring and with his leadership, receiving the Brian P. Doyle Memorial Trophy for leadership on and off the ice. Prier was recognized for the contributions he made in the 133 games he appeared in and the 116 points he tallied, by earning second-team all ECAC honors.

Prier enthusiastically accepted the offer of returning to Princeton. A strong supporter of the University’s ethos of education through athletics, Prier was excited about moving his family to New Jersey. Prier now has two children with his wife, whom he met during his first assistant coaching job at Princeton 10 years ago. He enjoys watching his players do spectacular things on the ice and is continuously inspired by their passion and dedication to the game and to their studies.

“It was good fortune that I was offered this job,” Prier said. “I was very excited and very appreciative of the opportunity. My main concern was to make sure I cherish it and worked as hard as I could.”

As a player and coach, Prier emphasizes the fundamentals and focuses on the small details. Combining this precision with his winning attitude and competitive training sessions, Prier is a strong leader for the Tiger squad.

“The biggest things are work ethic and mental focus,” sophomore forward Jack Berger said. “He wants us to be as intense as possible all the time, whether on the ice or off. He also stresses focusing on the little things like turnovers and positioning. Coach Prier demands that we do all the little things right all the time, and we have been very successful when we completed that goal.”

“The ultimate goal is to win the championship, or there is no business doing all of this,” Prier said. “We want to be the best and are continuously working on that. We all believe that we can still do that this year. If we continue to address what we need to work on, we can move forward and be more successful.”

“Coach Prier can best be summed up with the word intensity,” Berger said. “Whether on the ice during practice, on the bench during games, in the locker room, he always brings incredible intensity, focus and passion. He demands that we match his intensity in the way that we play, prepare, train and approach the game. I think that this method has been very effective for us as a team and is reflected in our aggressive and in-your-face style of play.”

Working alongside Prier this season are assistant coaches Scott Garrow and Greg Gardner, also in their first year on the Tiger staff. Garrow graduated from Western Michigan in 1992 and has over 17 years experience coaching at his alma mater and Cornell. Gardner is a 2000 graduate of Niagara where he played in net. A six-year professional career and five years as an assistant coach at Niagara give Gardner valuable experience both playing and coaching.

“Bob has such a passion for Princeton University, the community and our hockey program that it makes it very easy to get in line and follow his lead,” Gardner said. “He was a tireless recruiter when he was an assistant and has a great reputation nationally for it. He will push our student athletes to achieve more than even they believe they can. Every day it’s a great challenge coming in to the office.”

During preseason this year, Prier helped organize a “man-off” between his team and the Princeton wrestlers which included a series of physical fitness tasks.

“It was a nice opportunity,” Prier said. “Wrestling and hockey have similar types of ideals. They are both physical sports and demanding and taxing emotionally, physically and mentally. It was a good group to compete with because they are driven and hard working.”

“The man challenge again confirms his commitment to work ethic, team building and physical fitness,” Berger said. “The events were exhausting and very difficult, but I believe that both teams got a lot out of the experience both physically and mentally.”

Prier noted that the athletics department, in general, inspires each other and the relationships he has witnessed are “second to none.” The coaches all work very hard for their student athletes and are tremendous resources, he said.

Following a long and successful career as head coach, Prier said he hopes to leave his legacy on the Princeton hockey program.

“I would like understanding from my student athletes that I want their best, and that is always at the forefront. They should give their best all the time. This place will always give them more back, and they should carry that with them. I hope that they are empowered by what they did and their successes as Princeton students and athletes.”

“He loves his job, he loves the game; he makes hockey his life,” Berger said. “It is inspiring for the players to see him care so much and completely devote himself to making us successful.”

Beth Garcia

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