Dan LaCosta and Rob Hennigar have returned to the UNB Varsity Reds men’s hockey team – but in much different roles than the ones they previously held.
The two each won national championships with the team during their playing days and now, as members of the team’s coaching staff, they hope to do it again.
For LaCosta — who played for UNB from 2011-2013 and boasted a .917 save percentage in his final season — the road back to Fredericton started on a less-than-positive note.
“I wound up suffering a couple concussions while playing overseas last season, and ended up retiring as a result. I was lucky enough to finish out the season as the assistant coach of the team, which gave me my first look at a coaching role,” he said. “My wife became pregnant while overseas as well, and we decided we wanted to move back to Fredericton once the season was over.”
As for Hennigar, it was family that led him back to the East Coast. Hennigar had played in the East Coast Hockey League, American Hockey League, and Italian and German leagues following an illustrious four-year career with the V-Reds, where he notched 177 points in 108 games.
“It was a fortunate situation. I was heading back to Europe to play another season when my wife became pregnant. We fully intended to go back but when my daughter was born in March we decided it would be best for our family to stay here,” explained Hennigar.
“I started coming around the team when I had time and helping out. When the [associate coach/hockey school coordinator] job became available it was the perfect situation for myself and my transition from being a player to the real world.”
Putting their past experiences to work, LaCosta and Hennigar draw on both their time spent at UNB and overseas when relating to the team.
LaCosta will be working primarily with this season’s goalies, Chris Carrozzi and David Shantz.
“They are both coming to UNB from professional hockey backgrounds and sat out some time before playing here, and spent some time away from academics,” said LaCosta. “It’s basically an identical situation to what I went through before I started playing here.”
Although LaCosta had the opportunity to play with many of the current team members only two seasons ago, he isn’t letting his newfound position go to his head. He thinks of himself more as a role model than an authority figure, and doesn’t treat anyone differently now that he is on the other side of the boards.
“I believe we all earned a mutual respect for each other during my time here. I’d like to think I was a good teammate and person while I played here.”
Hennigar believes that his time spent as a Varsity Red gives him credibility with the team, while helping the players see him as a peer who succeeded rather than simply as a coach.
“My goal is to help sell the program to the guys. Obviously they see me as someone who came through here, was successful, had a successful pro career and continued on to find another career within hockey,” he said. “Hopefully I’m young enough that they still remember me playing and respect my game, so they may be more apt to consider my advice.”
Since taking on his new position, Hennigar has also found himself empathizing with his past coaches.
“I now understand why coaches get mad, which I could never really understand before. It’s basically because you want them to do so well and it’s ironic because I couldn’t understand their perspective before.”
The two hope to use their new positions to help better the team both on and off the ice. Hennigar looks to instil some of the life lessons that he gained while playing for UNB in the current team members.
“At UNB, every year is a big year for us — we try to win every season. Ultimately we want another CIS championship. On a personal level, I want to see the guys grow as individuals and as players. I want them to come to the rink every day to have fun, be enthusiastic and learn something everyday — that’s my goal.”
Looking to the future, LaCosta has high hopes for the two goaltenders.
“My personal goal is to do my part to help the goaltenders improve each day and reach their individual goals. Both of them would like to play professionally again after their time here, and I want to help them get back there.”
The Varsity Reds open up the home portion of their regular season schedule on Friday against the Dalhousie Tigers. The puck drops at 7 p.m. at the Aitken Centr