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UMD narrows search for new women's hockey coach to three candidates

Laura Schuler1 / 3
Mike Sisti2 / 3
Maura Crowell3 / 3

Minnesota Duluth assistant coach Laura Schuler is one of three finalists — along with Mercyhurst head coach Mike Sisti and Harvard associate head coach Maura Crowell — to become the next head coach of the Bulldogs women’s hockey program.

All three candidates were scheduled to interview on campus Tuesday and today with a hire expected to be made “in the next week or so,” according to a release issued by UMD on Tuesday.

“I was very impressed with the candidate pool. I think we’re going to get a really good coach in here,” said UMD assistant athletic director Abbey Strong, who headed the search committee and is a former women’s hockey player from North Dakota. “It was a very deep talent pool and there were a handful of others we could have brought on campus.”

Schuler, a native of Scarborough, Ontario, made her candidacy known shortly after it was announced on Dec. 15 that Shannon Miller would not have her contract renewed after 16 seasons and five national titles. Schuler, who has been an assistant under Miller the past seven seasons and before that was head coach at her alma mater, Northeastern University, for four years, joined the staff after the Bulldogs won their fourth national championship in 2008. The Bulldogs returned to the Frozen Four in 2009 and won a fifth NCAA title in 2010.

Schuler helped guide the Bulldogs back to the NCAA tournament in 2011, but UMD hasn’t returned since. The Bulldogs haven’t even reached the WCHA semifinals in two of the last three years after getting swept at home by Ohio State in 2013 and losing in overtime of Game 3 to Bemidji State at home this season.

That lack of success is one reason — as well as Miller’s $207,000 salary this year — UMD has cited as the reason it is shaking up the coaching staff.

“My goal here with Shannon was to be mentored by her and one day take the program over,” Schuler said back in December shortly after also receiving notice her contract as an assistant would not be renewed. “I feel like she has helped me be ready to be in that kind of position moving forward whether it is here or somewhere else.”

While Schuler doesn’t have the recent success of Sisti — two Frozen Four appearances in the last three seasons — or Crowell — the Crimson were national runners-up this year — she does have strong international connections. She coached Canada to a gold medal in the IIHF Under-18 World Championships in March 2014. In addition to working with the Canadian U-18s, Shuler has worked with the U-22 team and senior national team. She played 11 seasons for the Canadian national team as well, winning an Olympic silver medal in 1998 under Miller and world championships in 1990, 1992 and 1997.

Sisti, a native of Buffalo, N.Y., who played collegiately at Canisius, doesn’t have the international coaching experience of Schuler — nor does Crowell — but the longtime Lakers coach has proven he can lure the best players in North America to the Pennsylvania shores of Lake Erie.

Canadian forward Meghan Agosta played four seasons (2006-09, 10-11) for Sisti and was a Patty Kazmaier finalist all four years. She has won three Olympic gold medals for Canada (2006, 2010, 2014) and was named the MVP of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia

Because of players like Agosta and 2010 Patty Kazmaier Award winner Vicki Bendus, Sisti’s Lakers have gone 410-108-34 in 16 seasons, won 13 consecutive College Hockey America regular-season titles, 10 total CHA tournament titles and made the NCAA tournament 10 consecutive seasons between 2005-2014. The Lakers lost 5-0 to Wisconsin in the 2008 NCAA title game.

Crowell’s Crimson lost the championship game to Minnesota on Sunday, wrapping up a 27-6-3 year for Harvard, which tied Clarkson for the Eastern College Athletic Conference regular-season title and beat Cornell for the ECAC tournament title.

Crowell, who grew up in Mansfield, Mass., and played for Colgate, has coached at Harvard the past five years, serving as an associate head coach this season, the interim head coach in 2013-14 while head coach Katey Stone coached the American women to a silver medal at the Sochi Olympics, and before that as an assistant.

During her season as interim coach, Harvard went 23-7-4 and finished second in the ECAC. The Crimson fell in the ECAC semifinals and their season ended in the NCAA quarterfinals. She was a finalist for ECAC Coach of the Year in 2014.

Prior to coaching at Harvard, Crowell was the head coach at NCAA Division III Massachusetts-Boston for five seasons, going 73-53-4.

“The fact that each one of these finalists had head coaching experience at the Division I level, that was important to us,” Strong said.

Matt Wellens

College hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune covering the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs men's and women's teams, as well as the NCAA Division III programs at St. Scholastica and Wisconsin-Superior.

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