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    A Pearl of wisdom

By Katherine May

Coach Paul Pearl and the men’s ice hockey team had the program’s best start since the 1979-80 season. The Crusaders began the year with a six-game winning streak that was snapped by a 2-1 loss to Sacred Heart at the end of November. But Holy Cross bounced back and continued to play strong and show improvement with each game. And if you ask the assistant coaches and the players, much of this success can be attributed to the coaching of Paul Pearl.

Pearl, a 1989 graduate, had been a four-year letter winner for the Crusaders. During his College hockey career, Pearl appeared in 125 games and posted 77 points (14 goals and 63 assists). A member of the baseball team for four years, he registered a .301 career batting average. This dual athlete then became a dual collegiate coach on Mount St. James for both the baseball and men’s hockey teams. Serving as head hockey coach from 1994-96, he took a year off before returning to the position in 1997. Pearl assumed the post of head baseball coach in 1999, leading his team into the Patriot League playoffs twice in his three-year tenure. In 2002, hockey became Pearl’s top priority, after leading his 1999 squad to the MAAC championship.

“I have the greatest job in the world,” Pearl says. “It is a dream job to be able to coach college hockey.”

While a player at Holy Cross, Pearl served as captain of the 1989 squad. The College’s associate athletic director/business manager and former hockey coach, Bill Bellerose ’77, recalls Pearl as always being prepared, both mentally and physically.

“He is a born leader,” Bellerose says. “He was so motivated that he became a great motivator for others.”

Pearl is a unique coach, who instills in his players a strong work ethic and demands the kind of commitment he demonstrates to the team. Associate head coach Terrence Butt ’95 and assistant coach Brian Akashian ’01 each had the opportunity to experience Pearl’s commitment and dedication to building a successful team, first as players under Pearl, and now as assistants to him.

“What Coach Pearl immediately brought to [the ’95 team] was an intense commitment to the program as a whole,” says Butt. “His attention to detail, both on and off the ice, provided us with the best possible opportunity to succeed.”

Like any good coach, Pearl has adapted his coaching style over the years to accommodate the changing times and the changes to his team. The move to a Division 1 hockey team required adjustments in play and mindset—the season became two months longer, increasing the need for a unified and tenacious team.

“Coach Pearl has realized that because of the tremendous amount of time the coaching staff and players spend together, there needs to be more interaction and exchange of ideas between players and coaches,” says Akashian about Pearl’s response to the longer season. “The coach’s office door is always open, and he is extremely approachable to talk about anything.”

After the 1999 MAAC championship win, the team faced a few difficult years, posting records of 8-24-3 and 8-22-2 over the next two seasons. Akashian described how Pearl worked through these tough times, rededicating himself to his team and finding ways to improve the program each year.

“I love the kids here,” Pearl says. “They are good athletes and students, and I have enjoyed being a part of what they are doing here. I have an intimate knowledge of the school, and I like recruiting others to come here.”

As a coach, Pearl finds it enormously rewarding to see his players succeed beyond their college careers—whether playing professional hockey, like Pat Rissmiller ’02, or passing the bar exam.

Current Crusader captain Greg Kealey ’04 feels that the things Pearl teaches them in practice and in games will help all of them later in life.

“He has instilled in us a work ethic that can be taken from the rink and used in school work and in life,” says Kealey. “We’ve been through a lot as a team in the past few years and have had the chance to look at him not just as a coach.”

“Paul really cares about every person on the team and wants them to succeed,” says Bellerose. “He is one of the most consistent coaches I’ve seen in terms of discipline and how he approaches the game in general.”

Pearl’s strategy on and off the ice is to meet challenges head on. His players saw this during the two-year stretch following the MAAC Championship and during the emotionally hard times.

“You just have to make sure you balance everything well,” says Pearl matter-of-factly. “By the time you get to March, it can be tiring. But when everyone works together, things get done.”

Pearl has managed his commitments well and over the years has posted a career record of 127-117-20—second only to that of former head coach Peter Van Buskirk, who racked up 167 career wins in his 10 seasons.

Off to one of the best starts in school history, this year’s men’s ice hockey team is looking toward the future and the possibility of the program’s first ever NCAA berth. With Pearl’s coaching and leadership, anything is possible.

Katherine May is a media relations intern at Holy Cross.


Men's Hockey team
Men's Hockey team

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