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Guest column

Charlie Holt's photo
The Fleet Center in Boston paid tribute to Charlie Holt during the Hockey East semifinal game.

a Legend

By Dick Umile '72

I can't remember a time when I didn't know Charlie Holt's name. We came from the same hometown, Melrose, Mass., and my uncles had played hockey with him. They knew I was wild about the sport, and they were always telling me stories about Charlie Holt and his power and skill on the ice. To me, he was a legend. So when I was recruited to play hockey for UNH, I was already in awe of the man who would be my new coach.

I soon discovered that Coach cared more about his players than he did about winning games. If we were having trouble in school, struggling with any subject -- including life -- he tutored us. Night after night, long after the Zamboni had been put away, Coach Holt would be in his tiny office helping some player -- often me -- with an assignment. When Gordie Clark '74 lost family members in a tragic fire in St. John, New Brunswick, Coach was the first to travel to Canada so he could be there for Gordie.

Coach never shouted, and he never used profanity. He didn't need to. Occasionally he'd try to get mad, and he'd say something like, "Gosh darn it!" If we didn't play well, we knew we'd disappointed him, and that was all the incentive we needed to try to do better the next time.

I remember once we were playing Colgate, and I missed a breakaway shot that could have won the game for us. The next day, Coach came into the locker room with a smile on his face. He didn't mention the failed goal attempt or anything else we'd done wrong. Instead, he talked about the things we'd done right. Then he showed me some different moves I could use on breakaways to improve my scoring opportunities.

Coach knew how to bring out the best in every player. He looked for the best spot for each of us, the place where we were most likely to succeed. He was proud of all of us, and right up to the end of his life, he could tell you the name of every young man who had ever played for him and what his special skills had been.

I will be seeing him, at every practice and every game, as long as I'm a coach and UNH players are on the ice.

It's been a fantastic opportunity for me to have my mentor and hero so close during my career at UNH. Occasionally, he was my secret weapon. For example, there was the time we played Providence College in the Hockey East tournament in 1992. Providence had the best power play in the country, and they'd used it to beat us three times during the regular season. In the week before the tournament, we were desperately trying to think of a way to shut them down using the traditional box shorthand defense. Coach Holt happened by one afternoon to wish us luck, and I asked if he had any ideas. Coach was always reluctant to interfere, but he finally suggested the triangle-plus-one defense. "I've used it before," he said. "It might work."

I had always known that Charlie Holt was a great coach, but after that, I thought he was a genius. The play he sketched out for us fouled up Providence's power play and won the game for us. We went on to play Maine in the finals.

One of the best times I ever had with Coach was when we went to Minneapolis in 1997 for his induction into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. After the ceremony, we had a little spontaneous celebration back at the hotel. Gordie Clark, Coach's first All American, was with us, and so was his longtime friend and assistant coach, Dave O'Connor. It was karaoke night in the hotel lounge, and in honor of Coach's induction, we all got up to sing Frank Sinatra's "My Way." It took some convincing, but in the end, there was Charlie belting out what I call the Italian national anthem.

The song couldn't have been more fitting. He always did it his way, and his way was a great way.

It's hard to believe that I won't see Coach at the arena anymore, sitting in the stands to watch a practice or stopping by the coaches' room to wish us luck before a game. In fact, I know that's not true: I will be seeing him, at every practice and every game, as long as I'm a coach and UNH players are on the ice. ~

Richard C. Umile '72 has been head coach of the UNH men's hockey team since 1990. Charles E. Holt Jr., who died March 17, 2000, coached UNH hockey from 1968 to 1986.

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