On the latest episode of New England Hockey Journal’s RinkWise podcast, Kirk Luedeke is joined by Cushing Academy’s Steve Jacobs and Paul Pearl.
Jacobs, the longtime hockey coach at the Ashburnham, Mass., prep school, stepped down from his post over the summer to take on the position of Cushing’s Director of Boys Hockey.
Pearl, who has coached at the Division 1 level for more than 30 years, is assuming the lead role behind the Penguins’ bench starting with the 2021-22 season.
In the early going of the transition — and prep season not far off — the coaches join Luedeke to discuss a number of hockey topics, from their respective coaching careers to their philosophies for success, the evolution of the hockey program at Cushing and more.
A native of Hudson, Mass., Jacobs began coaching at Cushing in 1985. He spent 22 years building one of the most successful prep programs in the country before stepping away in 2007. He returned in 2017 following stints in the AEHL and EHL.
Since he returned, Jacobs knew that he wanted to remain involved with the program but eventually step into a lesser role. With Pearl taking over the reins, he is now able to do that.
“It’s been an easy transition,” Jacobs said of handing off the head coaching duties. “Having Coach Pearl, who is so familiar with the landscape and the players and prep schools, that part of it has been great.”
“It’s been fantastic,” concurred Pearl, a native of Winthrop, Mass., who arrives at Cushing from Boston University, where he was associate head coach.
“Everybody has been extremely welcoming and I’m very fortunate to have Coach Jacobs there. It can be a little intimidating coaching at the place where the rink is named after the guy you’re coming after but it’s been fantastic.”
Come from D-1 where his mission was to help college players develop so that they could have a chance to reach their pro hockey goals, Pearl is on the other side of the pipeline now, helping players advance to the college realm.
“Beyond the baseline talent that kids have to have to get to that next level, I think it’s the kids who are all in,” Pearl said, referring to the attributes that make an effective D-1 player. “Not just in terms of the hockey and the weight lifting and things like that, but embracing (wherever they’re at). They just love being there.
“All of (the successful players that I have coached) have had that same thing. You were happy when you saw them walk in the rink not just because they were really good at hockey, but because they brought something to the team and they were good character guys. They make your job a lot easier as a coach, but they also make the team work together a lot better because they’re just such good people.”
According to Jacobs, the key to fostering that kind of environment is by putting an emphasis on fun.
“A guy like (14-year NHL veteran/Cushing alum) Tom Poti (Worcester, Mass.) — he loved to have fun,” Jacobs said. “We want our kids to want to come to the rink with a big smile on their face. I think Paul and I are aligned very similarly philosophically in that we’re going to be demanding, but we’re going to make sure you have fun and know that we have your back.”
Added Pearl: “It starts with recruiting and getting to know kids before they actually get to you and that they will be someone who will want to be a part of what you’re trying to accomplish.
“We’re not splitting atoms here, we’re not curing any diseases, we’re playing hockey and you have to have a little fun with that.”
For more from Steve Jacobs and Paul Pearl on their coaching philosophies, the storied hockey program at Cushing Academy and more, listen to the full podcast today.
RinkWise is brought to you by Sacred Heart University, University of Nebraska High School and Bruce Haas’ “Great Game!: D-1 College Hockey: People, Places, Perspectives.”