The previous article highlighted the Pennsylvania Huntsmen’s general manager Zach Overholtzer. This week, we take aim at the first head coach in Huntsmen history, Blaise Kilroy.
Kilroy has dedicated his life to the game of hockey. He is local to the area, growing up in Spring City, Pa. He spent his youth hockey years playing for the Valley Forge Minutemen and played for the Brewster Academy Lakes region. When it came time to play junior hockey, Kilroy played in the Eastern Hockey League as a member of the Boston Jr. Rangers. From there, Kilroy played NCAA hockey at Franklin Pierce University, in New Hampshire, before ending his college career back in Philadelphia, with Drexel University’s Division 1 ACHA team.
One of the most important things in building a new program — if not the most — is the process of finding the right coach to lead a team. There were many candidates interested in the Huntsmen, but Kilroy stood out above the rest.
“When his resume popped up, it jumped out in front of the rest,” said Huntsmen general manager Zach Overholtzer. “After some vetting, I discovered he played for our assistant coach, Ben Umstead, who only had good things to say about his work ethic and the way he played and understood the game. We wanted a guy with passion, experience, and relatability … and we have found it. The team has been on the ice over the summer, spent time together off the ice and at showcases. He has been down the path that these players have ahead of them; he knows what it takes. He isn’t ‘going to bring,’ he has already brought everything we were searching for in a youthful coach and we are excited to see where he takes our organization.”
It wasn’t a direct connection to coaching once Kilroy’s playing days were over, at first, he decided to step away.
“After college, I had the opportunity to play professional hockey, but I actually turned it down,” he said. “I fell out of love with the game after playing for over 22 years. Then, slowly after being away from the game, I started to feel that burn, that desire to play again and be involved again. I was working out and training when there was something that decided to turn the world upside down for a year or two. My body started to give way, and I needed to find other ways to get back in the game. I began to study hockey and watch it for what it was. I wasn’t sure what was in front of me, whether it be scouting, advising, assistant coach, or graduate assistant. I was constantly on the prowl for a position and eventually gave up. It wasn't until I went to a public skate with my girlfriend that I saw the ads all over the rink (Power Play Rinks) and said, ‘That's my shot; it was meant to be.’”
Another factor for Kilroy is that he will be one of the youngest coaches in the Eastern Hockey League Premier (EHLP). While some may think that is a negative, Kilroy can shed a new and younger perspective on the game.
“I think being a younger coach definitely has pros versus some of the older coaches in the league,” he said. “I was playing up until the pandemic. I was around the locker room. I was with the boys on road trips. I was on the ice battling, dying in practice. I know what it takes; it's fresh in my memory. I had the opportunity to play in this very league I am coaching in. Not many guys, if any in this league, can say they experienced the EHL both as a player and coach. In doing so, I will be able to take what I experienced and what I liked and disliked and implement it. I always say juniors were the most fun I have ever had, and being young will allow me to relive that, just a little more professional this time around. I think I have two great mentors and assistants in Ben (Umstead) and Lou (DeCola), who will undoubtedly be there for me.”
Winning a championship is always a goal for a team, but Kilroy’s focus isn’t on just the win column:
“My focus isn’t really wins or losses. I’m more focused on developing these players and moving them onto EHL, Tier II juniors, and even NCAA programs and hopefully pro. I will consider this year as a success if I take in guys and move them to a higher level where they will play. Obviously, one of my goals is to be competitive and win, but at the end of the season I want to look back and know I got the most out of each and every guy in the dressing room, whatever it may be. I want guys to look back and say, ‘Wow, the Pennsylvania Huntsmen made me who I am today on and off the ice.’”
The Huntsmen are gearing up for their inaugural season with the belief that the right people are in place. Whether it’s an organization’s first year or 21st year, there will always be trials and triumphs throughout a season. No matter what the challenge, the Huntsmen look to face the challenge and keep moving forward.
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By: Joe Sindoni
Play by Play Announcer