Barry Schutte was named associate head coach by Miami in mid-May.
Schutte was an assistant for Chris Bergeron at Bowling Green the past nine years, where the duo pulled a program from the brink of extinction to NCAA Tournament participants this spring.
The Thunder Bay, Ont., native played for the RedHawks in 1994-98, and was the team captain his senior year when Miami qualified for the NCAAs for just the second time in program history.
He played 131 games for MU, scoring 25 goals and dishing for 33 assists.
After graduating, Schutte became the head coach of Miami’s club hockey team, where he won a national championship, and he also was an assistant for the USHL Chicago Steel for two seasons before rejoining the RedHawks as the director of Goggin Ice Center, a position he held until being lured to BGSU in 2010.
VFTG recently talked to the new assistant coach.
VFTG: So after Bowling Green lost in the NCAA Tournament this March, could you have imagined you’d be an associate head coach at your alma mater months later?
SCHUTTE: At that point, things were starting to unfold and we were heading to the national tournament. I guess in the back of our minds when we left nine or 10 years ago we always thought that at some point in time, some day, that this day could come, but you never know if it will come to fruition or not. It all happened real fast. As much as you think of that possibility and that bridge could come for you to cross it, I don’t think you’re holding your breath for it and it all moved pretty quickly. Surprise isn’t the word I’m looking for, but 20 years is a long run and you never know if someone expects to make change and if they will. Personally it was an opportunity that excited me, for sure when it all happened really quickly.
VFTG: Several months have past since you’ve been hired so now that you’ve moved and are really digging into the position, what’s it like holding what has to be a dream job for you?
SCHUTTE: A hundred percent it is a dream job for me. It’s a job that I’ve wanted an opportunity at over the course of my professional career, but the stars didn’t align at different moments in the past. I feel like there’s a plan up there and things happen for a reason and work out the way they’re supposed to. I thoroughly enjoyed my time working for Miami University in various capacities with the rec auxiliaries and the Goggin Ice Center. The whole time, obviously as a hockey guy walking around the building every day, wanting to be involved with the team and wanting to contribute and help the team succeed. So to have that opportunity truly present itself and be real is surreal for me and very exciting.
VFTG: Can you talk about how the process of actually being offered the job went down?
SCHUTTE: (Coach Bergeron) and I are really good friends and we go way back and once he was working his way though the interview process, we communicated and talked about how it was going for him and how that might impact us at Bowling Green, and me personally and my family, and how it could play out a couple different ways. Our friendship and relationship is strong to the point where if this did pan out for him and it was an opportunity that he was granted and ultimately would seize, that he would want me to be a part of it. Ultimately that started some personal discussions for my household and my family, and my wife and I because we really did get everything that we wanted out of Bowling Green and the community and the campus and hockey. But at the end of the day when he accepted the job and it came to fruition, we were pretty excited about the possibility and just sat down and had a real conversation. The prelude to that was: If this happens, we’d like you to be a part of it, ok, now it has happened, do you still feel that way and are we going to do this? It moved pretty quickly and we were in communication throughout the process.
VFTG: You were a freshman at Miami in the fall of 1994 and graduated in 1998. What was your favorite on-ice moment while wearing the Red and White – the NCAA Tournament appearance Miami made your senior season?
SCHUTTE: Yeah, I think so. My freshman year was an experience that I’ll never forget. A small-town kid from northwest Ontario who probably didn’t know where Ohio was, much less Oxford. That whole experience pushed me outside my comfort zone – in a positive way, it was a lot of fun. There’s some games that catch your attention along the way that are significant moments, but that senior year, Miami hockey had not necessarily been in a position where national tournament appearances were a regular thing. Coach Bergeron’s senior year – the year before I got here – they were able to accomplish that for the first time, so now I felt like our group was charged with the task of trying to make it more of a regular thing and prove that we belong on the national stage. That whole season and having the success that we did, ultimately any other year we could’ve potentially won a championship. Michigan was such a good team that year, we came up just short of that, but helping get the national recognition for the Miami hockey program was very rewarding, especially being part of a small senior class at that point in time had a little part in leading the way.
VFTG: You were an excellent player at Miami, you were team captain your senior year and you have good size for a forward, yet you never played pro hockey. Did you have offers to go pro and decide to go a different path?
SCHUTTE: I knew my limitations. I was probably an East Coast (Double-A) player at the time, and I had some of those opportunities present themselves. But honestly, some Miami friends of mine who had graduated the year before that were employed in the Chicago area kind of encouraged me to meet with some folks that they were working for, and I did that. I was a 20-year-old freshman so I was the older senior too, and I guess I knew my hockey career was going to be short lived. I went on the interview and they offered me a job, unexpectedly. Being Canadian, they were willing to work through the immigration process and the work visa process, which, to me at that point was the golden ticket. They don’t prepare you for that – come down and play college hockey in the States and you love it down here, but then, well wait, how do you stay? And that was a hurdle. So I knew messing around in the East Coast (Hockey League) would’ve been short-term, and with my game at that time it would’ve been more of a fighter’s role, which I would’ve been OK with, but again, at 24, 25, that’s not going to last, I’m not going to enjoy that very long. So it was just circumstance, honestly, it’s the way it played out. There was a point in time when I had accepted the job and the immigration process that it looked like it was going to take longer than it did, and I was going to go play with (former Miamians) Marc Boxer and Andrew Backen and Andrew Miller down in Memphis (of the CHL) at the time, but then it all worked out where I didn’t end up playing pro. And for me, I look back on that quite often, honestly, and I wonder if I had not done that and chosen to pursue a professional career outside of hockey and pursued the immigration process, would I be standing here today. You just never know, so it all happens for a reason.
VFTG: So at age 27, you ended up back in Oxford and you became the club hockey coach, where you amazingly won the national championship in your first season. That’s quite a beginning to your hockey coaching career.
SCHUTTE: I make sure I remind (club coach) Mark Frankenfeld of that all the time. He coached the club team for a long time and never came up with (a title). We made it look easy that first year. With my coaching career, that will go down as a very memorable moment because it was my first year coaching and honestly I had no idea what I was talking about. At the club level, you’re the head coach, the assistant coach, the equipment manager, the general manager – you do it all. So it was a fulfilling and very rewarding experience. We had a great group of guys. Club hockey is very competitive, there’s lots of hockey players out there and only so much room for them at the varsity level in college athletics in the hockey world. Miami has a rich tradition of being a top program, and we had a really good young corps of freshmen that helped push us over the top, and the stars aligned and it worked out as far as you get the right draw at the national tournament and your goalie gets hot and you get a couple fortunate bounces. It’s a true appreciation for the sport because those kids pay to play…they fund themselves and they’re playing for the love of the game. I wasn’t sure if coaching was going to be a real passion of mine or not at that point in time. But that year and that experience brought that out in me and basically told me that if I can be around the game and be coaching in some capacity that I need to find a way, because it was that much fun with those guys. Twenty years (ago) this year, we’re coming up on. That’s crazy, we’re talking about bringing them all back this season if we can.
VFTG: So you were hired in the spring and you’ve been an associate head coach for several months now. Obviously you had to move to Oxford from Bowling Green, but shifting into this role for Miami, what has been your main focus since accepting the job?
SCHUTTE: First and foremost was trying to make sure the personal side of it was taken care of and my family has what it needs throughout this process because without their support I definitely couldn’t be doing this. It’s a big deal for the kids – I’ve got a 15-year-old, a 12-year-old and a 10-year-old – and it’s a lot for them. So once we had those ducks in line it was 100 percent working with Berg and (fellow associate coach) Eric (Rud), trying to evaluate the situation. Obviously, recruiting is a huge, huge role and responsibility that we’ll share together. We’ll all coordinate, and I’ll be the pivot on scheduling and so on and so forth. We’ve tried to assess and talk to and speak with as many of those players who’ve shown interest in Miami, whether it be a verbal commitment or not, there’s been some time of relationship with the university and the hockey program and re-introduce ourselves to them and let them get to know me and us a little better but also get to know them and just see if we’re speaking the same language or not and is this still a journey they want to continue and a relationship they want to sustain. So that’s what the first couple months were. (I) didn’t have much time to know the current players because school ended quickly after this all happened, so I’m very much looking forward to the next few weeks to get to spend some time with our current players, but ultimately I tried to reach out to all of them and get to know them over the phone. It was relationship building and networking with our current players and establishing some form of relationship with the future players and truly seeing who is still feeling the same way and has the same interest. I know a lot of them through the recruiting ranks over the last few years – I would’ve seen them playing here or there – but I just don’t know them as people.
VFTG: Are there certain advantages in being a Miami alum when it comes to recruiting?
SCHUTTE: Having walked in their shoes before, I hope they can be a little more trusting in what they’re hearing. Berg and I obviously lived it on this campus, but it’s not about me, and that’s the biggest thing that I’ve tried to emphasize to these kids. As much as this is a dream job for me and I couldn’t be more excited to be back, this is a special place, a special community on and off campus and I can’t wait for you to experience that. Having said that, this is your deal. I’ve had my time and I would do it again if they’d let me, but we want to make it about them. It’s their time and their journey and hopefully we can help them navigate that to the best of their abilities, and that’s where I think experience comes in on campus. As a college student and as a student athlete, you’re going to stumble along the way at times and you’re going to need someone standing next to you to help you navigate through that, and we obviously have a plethora of experience doing so on this campus and hopefully that can help them succeed on a daily basis.
VFTG: You’re moving from the WCHA to the NCHC, which I don’t think anyone can argue is the best Division I league in the NCAA. In the short time that you’ve been talking to kids during the recruiting process, do you find that the NCHC brand and the ability to tell kids they’ll be playing the Denvers and the Duluths and the North Dakotas of the college hockey world is a major selling point for elite young hockey talent?
SCHUTTE: I think the easy and obvious answer is yes. It goes without saying the success the conference has had, and in particular certain teams in the conference. But I think if kids and families are making college decisions – which is a 4-year experience – based upon a league, they’re probably making the wrong decisions if that’s at the top of your list. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be on the list – probably should be – because with that comes commitment level of all schools, commitment level of your school, which people want to see that level of commitment to their hockey program. So I think Miami hockey for years has gone embattled in recruiting wars against the Notre Dames and the Michigans and the Michigan States and the Ohio States for years, and I don’t think they won or lost any of those recruiting battles based on whatever conference those teams were in. We know what we are and what makes us successful, and we believe Miami has a particular niche and we’re a particular fit for certain student-athletes, and that’s where I can speak to my own experience. I get Ohio State’s campus or Michigan’s campus and I get really uncomfortable – that’s not my vibe. And I think that’s true for kids today. We know Oxford is special and unique and Miami has lots to offer but we also know it’s not for everybody. I think what we’re selling is Miami University and Miami athletics and Miami hockey. We believe that, in the recruiting world, will win out in the end more times than not against anybody on any day in any conference. But being part of a body that has success at a national stage, year in and year out, with the winningest conference in non-conference play, it doesn’t hurt. It’s another feather in your cap when it comes down to sitting on those couches with those kids to say, you can have success at the highest level in Division I college athletics when it comes to hockey in one of the top conferences, and why not you?
VFTG: How difficult is it do go from a program that you had become comfortable with after nine years and you knew what you were going to do every day and had helped build to the point where it was getting better every season to one that has been trending downward for a handful of years and won just two games after Thanksgiving in 2018-19, and to make that adjustment in a very short period of time?
SCHUTTE: I’ve given that a little thought this summer because I don’t want to say we took things for granted, but you just put your head down and you’re grinding and you’re recruiting and you’re working and you’re coaching and living and doing all that and the last few years kind of happened. And then all in the sudden you look back on it, and well yeah, it was a pretty good run and we had things in a good spot. Not necessarily doing anything different last year than four years ago, it just takes time for the culture to establish itself. You have to win to attract recruits, and obviously you need recruits to win, so you have to juggle that balance a little bit. It’s a little different niche when it comes to recruiting where we were compared to where we are now, which means it probably took a little longer to get the talent that we wanted to have the success on the national stage. I’m excited about a fresh start. You’ve got a lot of new challenges – you’ve got a whole new roster. Obviously I’ll work with forwards and power play, so now trying to figure out how all those pieces (fit). There’s a comfort in knowing exactly where all those pieces fit together but there’s also an excitement and an enthusiasm about the challenge of trying to work through that and figure it all all out. So I’m very much looking forward to figuring out how the current pieces to this puzzle on the ice fit together and getting to know the young men in that locker room and obviously with the future (players) as well, and knowing that the elite players in North America are going to want to hear from Miami hockey, and that excites me, where we had to find a different recruiting niche where we were before.
VFTG: Bowling Green was literally on the verge of extinction when you and Coach Bergeron arrived there, having won just five games the previous season, and it took you nine years but you won 25 games with the Falcons in 2018-19 and made the NCAA Tournament, the first time that program had accomplished that in three decades. Does the overhaul you and Bergeron were able to make there give you confidence in your ability to do it again with a team that isn’t in nearly as dire of straits?
SCHUTTE: For sure, and we know exactly what we’ve been doing for the past nine years. It’s ironic how the timing works out. For us to play Minnesota-Duluth in the national tournament this past year, who won this conference, who won back-to-back national championships, who we feel – and their coaches would probably tell you – we were one of their hardest games all year. We had that game won, we were five minutes away from winning that game and knocking off the defending champion, who had their way in this conference last year, kind-of sort-of. So we’re proving that the plan works, and as long as we stick to the plan and execute it at a high level, that we can go head-to-head against the top programs out there, and now you do so with a different recruiting field now, that excites you. You have have hopefully a longer reach when it comes to recruiting and different levels of players that…will help us bring in top talent that can help us accomplish those things at a high level one season to the next.
VFTG: I’m glad you and Coach Bergeron were able to figure out how to play against UMD, because that team has owned Miami since the inception of this league, and that team is obviously going to be a team the RedHawks will have to have to play better against to have success in this league.
SCHUTTE: Honestly they reminded me of some of Miami teams of the past when (former coach Enrico Blasi) and Berg and those guys were having their runs of national tournaments and ultimately the Frozen Fours, Duluth had a similar blueprint. Really good goaltending, a strong back end, some offensive guys who were dangerous but some big, strong, hard-to-play-against defensemen, and a group of forwards that scored by committee, obviously had a few top players, but it was a team-first mentality, and it was a good mix of everything, and that’s what (Duluth) reminded me of, and honestly the team we were trying to build and the thought we built at Bowling Green. So I think it’s a similar blueprint, and I can’t have an opinion today as far as how close we are to that here at Miami or how far away we are from that day, but I know we’ve got a lot of young men on this roster that committed for the right reasons and hopefully a fresh voice and a little bit of a new plan can reinvigorate to hopefully have some of their best years over the next couple of years to come.
VFTG: We thought the Jordan Uhelski storyline for opening night was pretty cool last season, where a graduate transfer goalie started on opening night against his former team, Alabama-Huntsville. But having Bowing Green as Miami’s Game 1 opponent blows that out of the water. What’s that going to be like for you?
SCHUTTE: Again, when you look at it from 10,000 feet, it all lines up. The storylines and the side stories are unreal when you look at all that. You couldn’t have scripted that, especially since we didn’t play this year, and all in the sudden it’s on the schedule and all of this happens. I’m very glad that it’s here first because I think having to go back there the first game of the year would be extremely difficult, and it’s going to be difficult in December because those boys and those families and that community put a bunch of trust and faith in us as people heading up that organization. Obviously there’s a lot of love and relationships there that we hope last a lifetime, and we’ll be cheering for them to have a lot of success in years to come, just not on those nights when they’re facing the RedHawks. We’re going to hopefully look for some bragging rights and get that first win under the belt early, and no better opponent to take it out on than some old friends.
VFTG: Thanks a lot for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to us, and we wish you and the entire coaching staff nothing but success moving forward.
SCHUTTE: I can tell you this: We, and myself in particular, we’re going to work tirelessly to make everyone proud of the program, and it’s not a matter of is it going to happen, it’s just a matter of when, and that’s one of the reasons we were so excited to come back here, because we truly knew that everything is in place for this to be great and to be a national contender, year in and year out, and now it’s just a matter of getting to work, so we’re excited to do just that.