NEW HAVEN — Earlier this month Kyle Wallack left the interview process at Albertus Magnus College with a familiar feeling.
Nineteen years ago he was part of the men’s hockey coaching staff at Quinnipiac, a program that had just elevated to Division I status thanks to an administration with lofty ambitions.
Wallack, introduced as Albertus’ inaugural men’s hockey coach at a press conference on Monday, said his meetings with school president Marc Camille and athletic director Jim Abromaitis reminded him of those early days at Quinnipiac.
“There are so many similarities,” Wallack said. “We learned back then that you win with your administration and the way they support you. It became clear right away that they’re 100 percent behind this at Albertus. They want to be a contender and win championships.”
Albertus hockey will debut in the fall of 2019. The school’s ambition to make it a success is evident in the hiring of Wallack, one of the top assistants in college hockey, a coach whose resume includes some impressive footnotes.
He’s spent the past 20 seasons in Division I, most recently at Vermont, where he’d been elevated to associate head coach under Kevin Sneddon. Prior to that he’d worked at Quinnipiac, helping Rand Pecknold reach the NCAA tournament in 2002, the program’s fourth Division I season.
There were stops at UConn and Holy Cross — where the Crusaders recorded perhaps the biggest upset in NCAA tournament history in 2006, a first-round overtime win over a top-seeded Minnesota team filled with future NHL players, including Phil Kessel and Blake Wheeler.
When Keith Allain took over for Tim Taylor at Yale in 2006 his first coaching staff included Wallack. The program went from the bottom-tier of the ECAC to NCAA tournament regular in three years. His efforts as a tireless recruiter with an eye for talent became apparent at Yale.
Though he left Yale in 2011 for a job in the United States Hockey League, he’d landed nearly every player on the roster of the Bulldogs 2013 national championship team as well future NHL players John Hayden and Alex Lyon.
“Kyle brings with him a wealth of experience and a history of success,” Abromaitis said. “He is known and respected among all in the hockey community not only locally but nationally as well. I don’t think there is anyone more prepared to put our new program on the map.”
Albertus’ pursuit of Wallack began with a phone call from men’s basketball coach Mitch Oliver, who’d worked with Wallack when the two were at Quinnipiac together in the late 1990s.
Wallack wasn’t sure at first. His wife, Lauren, is from Guilford and wanted to move close to family in Connecticut. But he knew little about Albertus despite its campus being a mile up Prospect Street from Yale’s Ingalls Rink.
Campus tours and discussions with school administrators convinced him the job was worthwhile. The investment in hockey at Albertus comes in partnership with the city of New Haven and includes a multi-million dollar renovation of Ralph Walker Rink.
“Marc Camille is a true go-getter,” Wallack said. “He believes hockey is going to do a lot for the school and the community and is really getting after this.”
Wallack has long aspired to be a major college head coach. His name has come up in several job openings the past few years, including recent searches at Merrimack and UMass. But with only 60 teams in Division I there’s not much yearly turnover.
Longtime Division I assistants have taken head coaching jobs in Division III that led to major college jobs. Norm Bazin’s first head coaching position was at Hamilton College, which led to his hiring at UMass Lowell. Ron Fogarty spent seven years at Adrian College before being hired at Princeton in 2014.
“If that were to happen it would be nice,” Wallack said. “But today the focus is on Albertus and building a successful program that eventually wins some rings.”