Making it to the Top in the NHL

Alumni7 MIN READ

Greg Cronin ’86, the new head coach of the Anaheim Ducks, started his hockey coaching career at Colby

Since 1987 Greg Cronin '86 has been ascending the hockey coaching ranks, and now he's made it to the top as head coach of the NHL's Anaheim Ducks. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/the Denver Post via Getty Images)
By Bob Keyes
June 21, 2023

The story of Greg Cronin’s coaching career is about persistence.

“It’s never too late,” said Cronin ’86, who was named head coach of the Anaheim Ducks of the National Hockey League June 5. “It’s not in my DNA to rest. That’s why I made it. I am determined.”

Cronin, who played men’s hockey during his four years at Colby and helped lead the Mules to two ECAC Division II Final Four appearances in 1983 and 1984, began his coaching career at Colby in 1987 as an assistant under Michael “Mickey” Goulet, with whom Cronin is still in touch.

In the years since he’s ascended the hockey coaching ranks as an assistant and head coach at the college level (17 years), assistant or associate coach in the NHL (12 years), head coach in the American Hockey League (seven years), and as founder and head coach for USA Hockey’s  National Team Development Program Under-18 Team.

And now, finally, head coach of an NHL team. It’s an elite club, with only 32 members.

“It’s really hard to describe how I feel,” said Cronin, who lives in Kennebunk, Maine. “I have heard and read that a lot of people are celebrating a 60-year-old first-time head coach with 36 years of experience. I see and hear that, and I think about the history behind it.”

The story begins at Colby.

Cronin arrived in fall 1982, one year behind his older brother, Donny Cronin ’85, who also played hockey. They grew up in Arlington, Mass., where the values of academics and athletics were instilled at an early age. They both came to Colby for a good education and because of the prospects of playing sports at the college level. 

Colby bonds

Among the first people Cronin met was his first-year roommate, Doug Scalise ’86. It was a good match. They were Boston sports fans. Scalise, from Brookline, Mass., played baseball and served as student manager of the hockey team for two years. They also shared a Christian faith.

“We got to know each other very well our first year,” said Scalise, who is in his 28th year as lead pastor at Brewster Baptist Church on Cape Cod. “Greg was a faithful Roman Catholic, and I attended the nondenominational service, and our faith in God was important to each of us. We had long talks at night about all kinds of subjects, including our faith, what our childhoods were like, our families, and our sports experiences. We came to trust and confide in each other.”

They remain close friends and spoke after the Ducks hired Cronin. Scalise has no doubt his friend has the skills, smarts, and mental and emotional stamina to rebuild a hockey team that has not had a lot of recent on-ice success.

“When Greg let me know he got the job I was ecstatic for him. He’s worked and prepared for this moment for decades, and you don’t know if the opportunity will ever come. Everyone’s dreams don’t come true, but we’re glad Greg’s professional dream did,” Scalise said, including his wife, Jill Wertz-Scalise ’88, in his sentiments.

“He understands well the relationship of vulnerability, courage, honesty, conviction, and caring, and the players and staff he works with are going to benefit from those qualities as well as the incredible depth of his hockey knowledge.”

Doug Scalise ’86 on his friend Greg Cronin ’86

Cronin double majored in American studies and history at Colby. In addition to Goulet, he cites two professors for their mentorship and influence, the late Charles W. Bassett, father of Colby’s American studies program, and Pete Moss, the John J. and Cornelia V. Gibson Professor of History, Emeritus. 

“Those were good people, and my ability to learn from good professors in a liberal arts environment broadened my landscape of learning,” Cronin said. “I value my time at Colby. My life would not have taken the direction it did without Colby College. I know that, and I am grateful for that.”

His journey began Down Under

After graduating in spring 1986, Cronin put the flexibility of liberal arts education to the test. He spent much of the following year traveling around Australia and New Zealand, leaving the States with little more than eight $100 American Express Travelers Cheques in his wallet.

“Remember them? That was before the internet, no cell phones, no ATMs,” he said. “But I had this curiosity about what happens after college. What better way to find out what your natural resources are as an individual than traveling on your own? I was gone for six or seven months and learned a lot about myself and a lot of intuition about how to read people, which has absolutely helped me in my coaching.”

When he returned, among his first calls was to Goulet, who offered him a job as an assistant. With the confidence of an independent world traveler, Cronin began exhibiting his skills as a leader as an assistant hockey coach at Colby. He taught the players about character and accountability—and how to go to the front of the net to support your teammates.

The experience set him on his career path.

The following year, he left Waterville to pursue a master’s in business at the University of Maine. There, he met and coached with the late Shawn Walsh, head hockey coach of the University of Maine Black Bears, whom Cronin described as “the single most influential person in my career.”

Greg Cronin talks to a team during practice when he was an assistant coach for the Toronto Maple Leafs. (David Cooper/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Cronin remained at UMaine through the 1990 season, coached at Colorado College for three years, then returned to UMaine for three more years before going to work for USA Hockey. He made it to the NHL as an assistant coach for the New York Islanders in 1998. He got his first head coaching job at the professional level with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the American Hockey League five years later, then returned to college hockey as head coach at Northeastern—where his father, uncle, and cousin all played hockey—from 2005 to 2011.

He was just getting warmed up.

Cronin returned to the NHL for seven years, first as an assistant coach with the Toronto Maple Leafs and then as an assistant and associate head coach with the Islanders.

Pressing on

And then he got fired. It was 2018, and he faced a crossroad. Keep pressing on with hockey in the hopes of getting an NHL head coaching position or finally starting over in another career?

Lou Lamoriello, president of hockey operations for the Islanders, advised him to return to the AHL and keep working.

“He told me, ‘You need to rebrand yourself.’ So I did.”

Pressing on, Cronin landed the job as head coach of the Colorado Eagles, the AHL affiliate of the NHL Colorado Avalanche. It was a step down from the NHL, but it was his best pathway back up. His team qualified for the playoffs in four of his five years—the year his team did not qualify was when the league shut down because of the pandemic—and he provided the injury-riddled parent club with a steady stream of good young players.

Last off-season, he was a finalist for the head coaching job of the Boston Bruins. This off-season, he finally got the call from the Ducks.

Pat Verbeek, general manager of the Ducks, said Cronin was a good fit for a young team in the process of rebuilding. “I felt we needed a teacher of the finer points of the game, and someone who has worked extensively over time with talented young players, helping them develop into successful NHL players,” Verbeek said when he introduced Cronin as head coach. “Greg has done all that and more.”

Blaise MacDonald, the Jack Kelley Head Coach for Colby Men’s Hockey, said Cronin has more than earned the promotion. In addition to sharing a Colby connection, Cronin and MacDonald have coached against each other throughout their college careers.

“I have known Greg for a long time and had many opportunities to compete against his teams in Hockey East. He is a great teacher, mentor, and coach.”

Blaise MacDonald, Jack Kelley Head Coach for Colby Men’s Hockey

“I have known Greg for a long time and had many opportunities to compete against his teams in Hockey East. He is a great teacher, mentor, and coach,” MacDonald said. “He and his brother Donny played at Colby and made a big impact during their time on Mayflower Hill. We are privileged to stand on the shoulders of former Colby players like Greg.”

The Anaheim Ducks are getting much more than a great coach, Scalise said. They are getting a good, smart person who will be as loyal and devoted to his players as he is to his friends.

“Greg is honest, which takes both vulnerability and courage. He is always going to tell you the truth even if it’s uncomfortable,” Scalise said. “Greg is intelligent and has a curiosity about learning that has never stopped in the 41 years I’ve known him.”