The Road Less Traveled

Upstart College Program Takes An Unconventional Approach To Building A Solid Foundation

When goaltenders dazzle in net they call it standing on their head. People might say Mackenzie Bruch is doing the same thing in her new line of work.

Not only is Bruch one of the few female coaches working in the Div. II and III men's college hockey ranks, but she is doing so at a start-up program that would make Shark Tank investors shriek "I'm out" before the pitch began. 

But for Bruch, the fit is a natural. 

The Barrie, Ontario native is serving as the goaltending coach for Div. III Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, Conn. It is the second stint on the sidelines for the 25-year-old former goalie for the Bemidji State women's team, but her first with a men's program. It also coincides with the Falcons' first year on the ice.

"I wouldn't say it's been difficult, it's just another challenge," Bruch said. "I actually played on an inaugural team my freshman and sophomore years at Stevenson University (Md.) so I was a little bit familiar with the unique challenges that brings. We had a team of 26 freshmen and played a really hard schedule."

Kyle Wallack serves as the head coach for Albertus Magnus, which has gotten off to an understandably slow start with a roster of all freshmen and one sophomore. 

"I like the direction we're headed," said Wallack, whose squad will join the New England Hockey Conference next year. "We check out the scores of start-ups and they're losing 11-0, 9-0. We're competitive right now. If we're going down, we're going down swinging."

And that's been the case right from the drop of the puck as the Falcons surrendered a goal in the game's final 15 seconds dropping a 2-1 decision at St. Michael's College on opening night. The next day Albertus Magnus earned a 2-2 tie, also against St. Michael's, for the program's first point. 

"If you saw the before here, you'd appreciate the after," Wallack said. "We've got pictures of roots and trees growing where the rink is. It's impressive for day one to day 400. This is going to be as good as any Div. III setup anywhere in the country."

Heading into the Thanksgiving break the Falcons (0-5-2) were still searching for their first win but, aside from depth, goaltending has not been an issue. 

Freshman netminder Pierce Diamond has played every game between the pipes and has made more than 30 saves in each of them. Diamond has been forced to shoulder the load after fellow freshman Hunter Virostek was injured in his first skate with the team.

It's just another challenge that Bruch has embraced. 

A tireless rink rat who still moonlights as a personal coach at Pro Crease Goaltending, Bruch has worked with goalies of all ages, skill sets and, of course, genders.

When Wallack landed the Albertus Magnus job he had a solid relationship with Jared Waimon, who was the goalie coach with  Quinnipiac University and the founder of Pro Crease. Waimon, however, was scooped up by the Tampa Bay Lightning as their goaltending scout before Albertus Magnus began competition, leaving Wallack a bit in the lurch. 

"I called Jared and asked if he knew anyone who could help," Wallack said. "He said I have the perfect one, it just depends how cutting edge are you? I said you had me when you said 'perfect.'"

Wallack offered Bruch the position after an hour meeting at a local Starbucks and hasn't wavered on his decision.

"I've had no second doubts or afterthoughts," he said. "I've been around enough women players and coaches to know that we're all just hockey players. She's a coach and we don't treat her any differently."

His netminder has been equally impressed. 

"I've had a lot of goalie coaches," said Diamond, who played two seasons in the British Columbia Junior Hockey League before entering Albertus. "It's nice to come to a school, a first-year program and we have a goalie coach. I have someone to talk to, someone who's been there and understands."

Bruch's post is not a ceremonial one. She is on the ice with the goalies leading them through drills, teaching angles and stopping pucks. With her past experience as a player and coach, she is not trying to re-invent the wheel on the ice or turn her charges into cookie-cutter goalies. 

"I try to understand them before I try to help them. No one wants to be changed just to be changed," she said. "Each boy is different and if they're playing in college they've been doing it for a long time so I just try to find ways to help them adjust.

"Sure, some guys don't want to listen to a girl, but you see it more with that 13, 14, 15-age group. And those are the kids that need more help. I never had that with the higher level. They're all looking to get better. And no one complains about a goalie if they're stopping pucks."

Bruch is too focused on the tasks at hand to consider herself as a trailblazer or look too far down the road at other coaching opportunities. Wallack, however, sees a passion for the profession that can take her places.

"MacKenzie has got a strong personality and good knowledge of the game. She has a will to want to become better. She works her tail off and wants to be a coach," he said.

"She has that same hustle and drive as any of us that wants to get to the highest level, and she'll get there. There's no doubt in my mind as long as people keep giving her an opportunity." 


Bill Cloutier is an editor at the Waterbury Republican-American and the former assistant sports editor of the New Haven Register.




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