Chris Bergeron was so content as Bowling Green’s men’s hockey coach that he wasn’t going to leave for just any job.
In fact, only one. When it beckoned, he couldn’t resist.
“The one place that would get my attention is the one place that called,” Bergeron said Monday. “When you see the ‘513’ area code on the other end of the line, it’s a little different.”
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The former Miami player and assistant coach was formally introduced as Miami’s sixth men’s hockey coach on Monday in a packed Goggin Ice Arena lounge. The audience included former RedHawk teammates, players he coached and coaches who coached him. Current RedHawks lined both walls.
Bergeron, who was hired on Friday to replace 20-year coach Rico Blasi, arrived in Oxford on Monday morning around 10:30 a.m., according to Miami assistant athletic director for communications Dave Meyer, and met with his new team at 1:10 p.m. before being formally introduced by Athletic Director David Sayler and former RedHawks coach Bill Davidge, who recently announced his retirement as a Columbus Blue Jackets broadcaster.
Twenty former Miami players reached out to Sayler to recommend Bergeron, the athletic director said. He asked each of them what made “Berg” so special and each one had the same answer.
“When I played for him, I didn’t want to let him down,” Sayler said, quoting the former RedHawks. “That’s the kind of leadership that’s amazing to me.”
Bergeron, a 1993 Miami graduate who played on the school’s first conference championship team and NCAA Tournament qualifier that same year, has been the head coach at former Central Collegiate Hockey Association-rival Bowling Green for the past nine seasons. He had a 171-154-44 career mark for the Falcons.
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Bergeron led Bowling Green to two Western Collegiate Hockey Association Tournament finals in his last three years, taking the eventual champion to overtime in both seasons. This season, the Falcons broke a 29-year drought of missing the NCAA Tournament when they secured an at-large bid to the field of 16 thanks to a 25-11-5 season, a record that represented the program’s most victories since 1994-1995.
Bergeron’s experience at turning programs around only made him more attractive for Miami. Bowling Green won just five games the year before he arrived on the bench and had not enjoyed a winning record since the 1996-1997 campaign, but that changed in 2013-2014 when the Falcons went 18-15-6 in Bergeron’s fourth season. The Falcons then took a jump from there, posting 20 or more victories in five straight seasons, going a combined 114-66-24 in that span.
Bergeron will be paid $305,000 annually for six years, according to Meyer.
Sayler fired Blasi on March 19 after the RedHawks finished 11-23-4 overall and 5-17-2 in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference this past season, extending to four their streak of consecutive losing seasons.
Prior to taking the Bowling Green job, Bergeron played a key role in Miami’s rise to prominence. His recruiting efforts and influence on the bench helped the RedHawks go 226-139-37 (.608 winning percentage) in his 10 seasons as an assistant coach to Blasi. Miami went to the NCAA Tournament six times and advanced to the first two Frozen Fours in school history in 2009 and 2010. During that stretch, the RedHawks won conference titles in 2005-2006 and 2009-2010 and set a school record with 33 victories in 2007-2008.
“For him to know the Miami history and what it’s been is exciting for us,” junior goalkeeper Ryan Larkin said. “He’s already made an impact. He called each and every one of us the first day he was hired.”
Bergeron also reached out to Blasi. The two talked on the phone a week earlier and traded texts on Monday, Bergeron said.
“He had an unbelievable impact on me,” Bergeron said, pausing for a few seconds to gather himself before resuming. “It’s hard for me stand up here and talk about him without totally losing my composure.”
Bergeron recalled a phone call from Blasi the Monday morning after Miami’s championship game loss in 2009.
“He talked me off the ledge,” Bergeron said. “That’s why I’m standing here. I want to win Miami’s first hockey national championship. That’s not a pipe dream.”