Beaney reaches 500-win milestone

LAKE PLACID – Bill Beaney, a native of Lake Placid, reached a milestone as the coach of the Middlebury College men’s ice hockey team Saturday when he earned his 500th victory behind the bench with the Panthers.

Win No. 500 came by way of the Panthers 5-3 triumph over Neumann College in the championship game of the 21st annual Middlebury College Holiday Classic tournament at Kenyon Arena, which also served as a fundraiser to fight Alzheimer’s that raised $5,000.

Beaney is the winningest coach in NCAA Division III history and now owns a 586-240-55 record over a 34-year span, which also includes 96 victories leading the New England College men’s program before he took over at Middlebury.

“I don’t think any coach evaluates their success solely on wins and losses,” Beaney told the Enterprise this week. “Reaching this milestone gave me the opportunity to reflect on being surrounded by so many good people for so many years. From the athletic directors, the coaches, the players – they have all been a part of this.”

Beaney is no doubt proud of reaching the 500-win plateau at Middlebury, where he is now in his 27th season coaching the team. But his passion for being in that position goes much deeper than finding success on the ice.

“Obviously, we want to have winning hockey teams, and I want to help our guys become better players,” Beaney said. “But as a coach, I get the opportunity to play a role in what happens with our guys outside of hockey and after hockey.

“I don’t think about wins just for the sake of wins,” Beaney continued. “Every year is a different year that creates a new set of challenges to have an impression on young men’s lives.”

Jamie McKenna, also a Lake Placid native, was one of those men who played for Beaney as a Panthers forward. McKenna, a 2009 graduate who had a four-year hockey career at Middlebury highlighted by a NCAA Division III championship in his freshman year, is now in his third season with Beaney behind the bench as an assistant coach.

“It’s pretty neat being able to experience playing for coach Beaney and now being in this role,” McKenna said. “He thinks differently than any other coach by keeping players’ minds active instead of giving them all the answers.

“As coach, he really challenges you and doesn’t let you off the hook,” McKenna continued. “He really cares for all the guys. He wants to see them grow as people and as hockey players. He helps prepare you for life after hockey.”

Beaney led the Panthers to a record five straight NCAA Division III national championship titles from 1995-99 and strung together three more from 2004-06. He also coaches the Panthers men’s and women’s golf teams, and has been involved with USA Hockey junior programs for many years.

Beaney’s impact as a coach has been widely recognized and has led to his inclusion in the Institute for International Sport’s list of the 100 most influential sport educators in America. In that group, Beaney is joined by the likes of tennis star Andre Agassi, sports columnist Frank Deford, former NBA coach Phil Jackson, baseball great Cal Ripken Jr., and former women’s and men’s college hoops coaches Pat Summitt and John Wooden.

With Saturday’s triumph, the Middlebury men’s team improved to 5-3-2 on the season.

Beaney said his only regret about win No. 500 was that it didn’t come at the expense of his brother Jeff, the longtime head coach of the University of Southern Maine, who coincidentally, is also in his 27th season leading the Huskies men’s hockey program. The opportunity was there because Southern Maine was one of four teams in the tournament, but fell Friday in the first round, dropping a 2-2 decision to Neumann in a shootout. Middlebury topped St. Michael’s College 6-2 in Friday’s other first-round contest for Beaney’s 499th win with the Panthers.

Although Beaney, 62, has seen his coaching career extend to 40 years, starting in 1974 at Vermont’s Bellows Free Academy, he hasn’t even considered the word retirement.

“As long as I’m fine health-wise, I want to keep doing what I love to do,” Beaney said. “That could be two years, that could be 10 years. My wife (Judy) asks me ‘What else would you do? You love coaching.’

“She’s right. I go to the rink every day, and I love it, and when it’s nice weather, I get to be out on the course. You can’t beat that. It’s a dream job.”

Beaney, who was also honored in his hometown as a 2007 inductee into the Lake Placid Hall of Fame, will look for his 501st win at Middlebury when the Panthers host Trinity College on Friday.