This article originally appeared on USAHockey.com on November 4, 2008, and was written by Mike Scandura.
Rob Haberbusch admits he was fortunate to grow up in Montclair, N.J., even though hockey wasn’t that prevalent in the Garden State.
“It wasn’t a big hockey area and there weren’t a lot of hockey players coming out of the state,” recalled Haberbusch, now in his first season as Army’s associate head coach after serving as an assistant coach the previous five years. “We were just lucky. In our town we had a public rink, which was one of the few in the state.
“That’s why we had a lot of interest in hockey in our town. The public rink had a huge impact not only in our town, but also on the high school.
“A lot of guys in my town played other sports. We didn’t have many guys who moved on after high school to play hockey because it hadn’t been done before. But the rink was a mile from my house and playing hockey was a popular thing to do in Montclair. It definitely changed my life.”
Otherwise, Haberbusch might not have made coaching a career and without question he wouldn’t have become involved with USA Hockey. Haberbusch has coached at 11 consecutive USA Hockey Select Festivals, primarily with the Select 17s and once with the Select 16s.
After graduating high school, Haberbusch played four years at Fairfield College and graduated in 1993.
He was an assistant hockey coach at Dwight Englewood High in New Jersey for the 1993-94 season, the assistant coach and then the head coach at Bridgewater-Raritan High from 1994-96.
After that, he stepped up to the college ranks where he was an assistant coach at Findlay from 1997-2002 (in the process he earned his master’s degree in education). Then he was an assistant coach at Iona College in 2002-03 before moving to West Point prior to the 2003-04 season.
“My two high school coaches at Montclair inspired me to go into coaching,” Haberbusch said. “Bruce Parker, who later was at Merrimack for six years, was the head coach and his assistant was Tom Clifford, who played at Brown.
“We had great coaching and a lot of ice time so we were very lucky. That’s when I fell in love with the game and knew I wanted to be around it as much as I could. They inspired me to get into teaching and coaching.”
But coaching any sport, including hockey, at West Point presents its own unique sort of challenges.
“In one sense, we’re like any other school in that we have our advantages and disadvantages,” Haberbusch said. “The advantage at West Point is you’re getting someone who is very disciplined, has a good work ethic and is an intelligent person. If you don’t have those things, you’re not going to have interest in West Point.
“Of course, the academics are difficult and they have military obligations. And they don’t get as much sleep as we would like because they have so many things on their plate.
“When they come here,” continued Haberbusch, “we try to be very organized as coaches and try to get to the point right away. Once we feel we’ve gotten that across, we move on. Be brief and thorough and get as much done as possible in a short amount of time.”
The rewards during Haberbusch’s time at West Point have been two-fold in nature.
Last season, for example, the Cadets won the Atlantic Hockey Association regular-season title -- the first time Army has won a conference hockey title in the 105-year history of the program.
“At the same time we’ve had guys do incredible things off the ice,” Haberbusch said. He cited Bryce Hollweg, who was the 2008 AHA Scholar Athlete of the Year and former defenseman Ian McDougal (Boxborough, Mass.), who’s currently in medical school.
“Our team GPA in the first semester last season made us the third-ranked varsity team at West Point,” Haberbusch said. “And second semester we were top-ranked at West Point.
“We’ve had success on and off the ice. That’s what we’re most proud of because that’s what this institution does. It develops well-rounded men and women.
“Winning is important to the administration,” added Haberbusch. “We want our graduates to have that winning mentality especially when they go into the Army.”
Haberbusch’s mentality at USA Hockey Select Festivals is such that he tries to enjoy and benefit from every moment -- regardless of whether he’s on or off the ice.
“It’s a fun time for coaches because you get to work with different people and see different ideas,” he said. “I like to go in there and collaborate a lot. We try to have different guys bring up different points.
“For players, it’s a chance to learn different nuances. Kids might have played Pee Wees and Bantams with a coach that’s moved along with them. At the festivals, there are chances for players to get different views, learn some new tricks and learn some things that can help them improve their game and see the bigger picture.
“Selfishly, as a coach,” continued Haberbusch, “I get a lot out of it because I get to work with different people and see different ways of doing things.”
Haberbusch, also enjoys working at the festivals from the standpoint that winning and losing isn’t as big a deal as it is during the regular season.
“It’s a great environment to go in and teach to help kids get better,” he said. “It’s a competitive situation from the point that they’re playing games and keeping score, but it’s a lot different environment than it is during the regular season for our college program.
“It’s an environment where teaching is the priority. It’s okay to make mistakes because you’re trying to improve and taking risks. Being proactive is encouraged.
“The main goal,” understated Haberbusch, “is to improve and become a better player.”
Story courtesy of Red Line Editorial, Inc.