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College Hockey Coaching: Who's the next Nate Leaman?

Ben Barr (left) has learned from some of the best in the game including Nate Leaman (center).
Ben Barr (left) has learned from some of the best in the game including Nate Leaman (center).
Matt Dewkett

With talk of a few college hockey head coaches on the hot seat, the question of who might be in line to fill those potential vacancies has arisen.

There is no shortage of young (under 45) assistant coaches who work tirelessly around the clock all year long on the recruiting trail, breaking down video, learning the game and bringing their knowledge and passion to the game to the players they coach.

There are certainly a few assistants or Division III head coaches that could be the next big thing in college hockey. Before Nate Leaman was the best head coach in the game, largely responsible for the last two national championships, he was a young assistant looking for a chance to prove his mettle.

Some coaches are better evaluators of talent than they are at being the main man in charge. Others might just prefer to be in the shadows, recruiting. With that in mind, here's a look at some assistant coaches and a Division III head coach under 45 years old to keep an eye on as head coaching vacancies occur.

The first assistant coach that comes to mind is Ben Barr, a former player at RPI and current associate head coach to Andy Murray at Western Michigan. A Minnesota native, Barr is at the top of the list because he's a great assistant coach who is good at evaluating talent. What makes him even more attractive is his experience on both sides of the country. He was Leaman's assistant at both Union and Providence before jumping to the NCHC with the Broncos. He played prep hockey in Minnesota and played college hockey in the ECAC. His recruiting connections are far and wide. He's learned from the best coach in college hockey, and he's currently under a coach with a background in the NHL.

Quinnipiac associate head coach Bill Riga has to be high on any list to fill a coaching vacancy in Hockey East or ECAC Hockey. The UMass Lowell alum was an assistant for Leaman at Union and also has experience in junior hockey with the Boston Junior Bruins. He's helped expand Quinnipiac's footprint on the recruiting trail and has delved into the Maritime provinces. He was reportedly interviewed by Princeton the last time that school's coaching position opened up.

Union associate head coach Joe Dumais has built a solid reputation as a tireless recruiter at Union, working under Leaman and Bennett. He's eager to find a head coaching position and reportedly was a finalist for a Division III opening this past summer.

Colgate's Juliano Pagliero and St. Lawrence's Jared DeMichiel are two younger assistants who are making a name for themselves as they work up the coaching ladder. Both are former Atlantic Hockey goaltenders -- Pagliero at Niagara and DeMichiel at RIT. Pagliero did a terrific job finding some hidden gems for Holy Cross' program and is now doing the same for Don Vaughan. DeMichiel is a Connecticut native who has worked well funneling some top prep talent towards Canton. Both are likely a few years away from serious consideration for a top job, but are names to keep an eye on for the future.

Another former goaltender, Kris Mayotte, the assistant at Providence, is another strong candidate. He's played under and coached under Leaman in addition to a stop at St. Lawrence. He's continued the momentum built by Ben Barr on the recruiting trail.

In Hockey East, there is likely no better eye for talent than Boston University associate head coach Albie O'Connell. He's worked wonders on the recruiting trail for the Terriers, but his prowess finding top talent extends far beyond just his time on Commonwealth Ave. The BU alum also helped Merrimack, Northeastern and Harvard land excellent recruits during his stops there.

Providence alum and Northeastern associate head coach Jerry Keefe is also an excellent recruiter. He's been largely responsible for the Huskies' top gains on the recruiting trail. Keefe is as dedicated to his craft as any.

Another name that comes to mind is Ben Guite, the third year associate head coach at Maine. A Maine alum, he won a NCAA Championship as a player there and played in the NHL and AHL. A Montreal native, he's bilingual, which would benefit programs as he can recruit internationally.

Mike Levine has head coaching experience from his days at the prep level with Kimball Union and has been Brendan Whittet's top recruiter. He's found some excellent pieces for a budding Brown program that has the added caveat of a tough academic profile while competing against other Ivies in the ECAC Hockey who fund their hockey programs more seriously.

Several of the best coaches in the college game right now came from the Division III level. Norm Bazin was the head coach at Hamilton before being hired at UMass Lowell. Leaman is an alum of SUNY Cortland. Pecknold played college hockey at Connecticut College.

One such coach that jumps to mind is Matt Greason, the Trinity College head coach who led the Bantams to their first ever NCAA Championship at the Division III level last season. A Maine native, Greason has extensive experience working with USA Hockey and has shown he knows how to win. He's also been an assistant at the prep level.