The First-Person Project

Bobby Rodrigue ’00

Keene, NH

Hockey Director and Manager of Operations, Keene ICE
Head Coach, Men’s Club Hockey, Keene State
Associate Coach-in-Chief, New England District, USA Hockey

Major: Management

As a kid growing up in Berlin, New Hampshire, I was part of a hockey family, and Berlin is really a hockey town, so the sport has always been consuming for me. I enjoy so much of it. There’s no other game like it.

I played quite a bit of hockey as a kid, but just pond hockey. I actually didn’t play organized hockey as a kid because of a medical condition. That was kind of disappointing for my family, because my grandfather and my father were both championship-winning goaltenders at Notre Dame High School. The school closed in 1972. We have a strong hockey tradition in our family. No regrets there, though, because all my best friends grew up playing hockey, and while most of them are out of the game now, I’m fortunate that I make my living in the game.

When I was in high school, I had a sense that I wanted to be a high school teacher, and that’s what I came down to Keene State for. Keene State was one of six schools I was considering; I made my decision the day we visited. I knew that Keene State was the right fit for me. I changed my major several times while I was here and ultimately landed on management. I was trying to find a field where I could see myself being happy. I was heavily involved in politics at the time. I’d been in student government and I’d been the student body president. Then I served two terms in the New Hampshire legislature, representing Berlin, while I was a student here.

I took an Intro to Management course with John Pappalardo, and that’s what hooked me on the management program. I completed most of my management major in 2000, had a couple courses left to pick up along the way. I waited a lot longer than I should have to come back and complete my degree, but I got it done.

At Keene State, I ran for freshman class president and lost. The kid who beat me left school after a semester, so the Student Assembly installed me as president. Then I was sophomore class president. Junior year I was student body president and Colby Campbell was vice president. Colby and I had a pretty good run in student government and became great friends. I asked her to come up with an initiative that would be her own. Her idea was Chalk Talk. I was skeptical about whether it would be a success, but for years it was a wildly popular activity on campus. It was a huge event where people could write or draw with chalk on Appian Way. For some it was about displaying some really great artistic talent, for some it was about social or political statements, and for others, it was just about having some fun. Colby really hit it out of the park with that one.

I had always been interested in politics. I was involved with the Clinton-Gore campaign when I was in high school, and when I was at Keene State, I got a call out of the blue from two of our state reps in Berlin who thought I would be a good candidate. In the New Hampshire legislature you’re pretty much independently wealthy or retired, or in some cases a student. You have to be incredibly fortunate to find the time to do it for no money. I said, “OK, I’ll take a stab at it,” not thinking that I was likely to get elected. I found out I was more popular than I expected and was elected twice. Serving as a state rep was a really great experience. I was in the legislature during the 2000 George W. Bush versus Al Gore race. I worked for the Gore campaign. I was able to spend time with him on several occasions. I’m still somewhat involved in politics, but I’ve been more focused on hockey.

I was in a fraternity here, Sigma Lambda Chi, that has transitioned a couple of times since I left. I’m still close with a lot of my brothers to this day. One of the things I try to preach to the guys who play hockey here at the College is that playing takes up a ton of their time but they should still get involved in other activities. That’s where they get a lot of growth and amazing memories – outside of the classroom.

After I graduated, I taught driver education here in Keene for about 10 years, putting more than 2,500 kids on the road, and it was an absolute blast. I worked through a private driving school that contracted with several school systems. At the same time, I got more and more involved in hockey, which is an evening and weekends thing. Teaching students to drive is also an evening and weekends thing. More recently, I worked with Monadnock Developmental Services as a service coordinator, then ultimately a supervisor of service coordination there. That was about the time that the rink opened, and eventually I had an opportunity to come and work here at the rink.

Hockey has always been my passion in life. As a Keene State student, I was assistant coach for a Squirt Hockey team. From there, I had a series of fortunate breaks where I’ve met the right people and my ascension in coaching has been the result of the great connections I’ve made.

I’ve coached every level of youth hockey. I got involved at the New England district level. I also coached at Keene High School for a year. We started the club hockey team here at the College 14 seasons ago. Since we’ve moved into Keene Ice, the new rink on Marlboro Street, the players’ grades are off the charts, injuries are down, and the on-ice performance is obviously speaking for itself. The team is very strong right now. I’ve continued to progress with USA hockey – I’m the associate coach and chief for the New England district and also the high school section director. It keeps me involved with the best coaches and players in New England.

Initially I was brought in at Keene Ice as hockey director and pro shop manager, so my job was to grow both the pro shop and the hockey program. Over the last year our previous operations manager found a different opportunity so I was asked to grow into that role. I use skills that I cultivated at Keene State –both inside and outside the classroom – every day, both in my work and in my coaching. Logistics and financial management, marketing, problem solving, planning, prioritizing, and, most importantly, being a good communicator are all skills that I developed at KSC.

I do still travel a lot for hockey. In addition to traveling with our Keene State team and being on the road often to scout prospective student athletes, the various other hockey hats I wear take me away from home pretty regularly. I spend several days and nights in each New England state each year and sleep in dorms a couple weeks a year for our player development camps. I also end up in Colorado and Florida for a week each year for hockey meetings. I’m really fortunate to be able to spend so much time with so many great hockey people and coaches.

When I get back up north to visit family we love trail riding and snowmobile riding and things like that. We hunt and fish up north – hunting is a huge passion for my family – and once in a while I find a little time around Thanksgiving to get away. Down here I golf, but I wouldn’t call that fun. I’d have to be better at golf to call it fun. We also like just going out to the lake and kayaking, too.

Stanley Yarosewick, or Dr. Y, as he was known, was Keene State’s president while I was a student. He and I started a program we called Walk and Talk. He wanted to have greater access to students, so once a week he and I would cruise the dining hall together and just plop down with other students to talk. That was a fun time. I’m still in touch with Dr. Y and Mrs. Y today.

Right now I’m really happy where I am. We expect the team to be quite strong this year and next year because we’ve had a lot of really good returning players. I’m really happy in the place where I am with USA Hockey right now and with the place where I am at Keene Ice, professionally.

The number one question I get asked is when the Keene State club hockey team will become a Division 3 team. I don’t know the answer to that. It sounds like there is interest on campus and in the community and I’d really love to see that happen, but funding would have to be identified for it. It’s not a pressing concern for me because I love what we are doing currently. One of the things that I’ve found is that people who succeed as students and return to campus as alums are those who have a strong connection to others when they are students. It’s either through sport teams, fraternities, sororities, or student government, just some sort of a real connection with the campus while they’re here. That’s what we think the club hockey team does.

We know that the club team we have here is stronger than several NCAA Division 2 and 3 teams in New England already. We’ve got a very good team. A lot of teams like to come play us because their big rinks are usually empty for club games, and this rink usually gets filled up for games. There will be 500 or 600 people here for some bigger games. The team has a lot of community support. Our guys volunteer to lead the Learn to Play program here, so all the little kids get their start in hockey with our players. Last year our league championship game was over in Nashua, and just before the game a bunch of six- and seven-year-olds came piling into the rink with their parents to watch the boys play. We’ve had a couple of times where the little kids have asked if they can invite some of the players to their birthday parties. It’s very cool. We like for our guys to have that connection to the community.