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Arizona hockey: For Coach Chad Berman, the Wildcats are more than just a club

Chad Berman explains his story that led him to be the head coach of the Wildcats.

UA Hockey Coach Chad Berman sits back as he coaches the Wildcats in the second period versus the UNLV Rebels at the Tucson Convention Center on Saturday, Nov. 5. The Wildcats defeated the Rebels by a score of 6-3.
Photography By: Robby Leano

University of Arizona Hockey Coach Chad Berman is in his third year as head coach of the Wildcats, and has brought a new hope to a previously struggling Arizona team. But for Berman, his coaching is more than just a job; it’s a passion that dates back more than two decades.

Imagine this: A five-year-old Chad Berman is exploring the realm of ice hockey with not much history in his family related to the sport. Berman says that he may have picked up his interest from family friends or watching the Detroit Red Wings, but dad had focused more on baseball instead. Despite all that, Berman began playing, and immediately fell in love with the sport.

When Berman reached his teenage years, he began to play in rinks of the North American Hockey League, a top-level Junior-A league in the United States. Berman eventually went on to play college hockey at Fredonia State in New York.

But shortly into his college career, Berman discovered he suffers from a heart condition, barring his ability to ever play hockey again.

He was devastated, but moved forward. While still at Fredonia, Berman, along with a colleague, began to move into a new lifestyle and career: music.

“I was playing cover songs at Fredonia to make some money, and for fun,” Berman said. “And the guy I was playing with asked ‘why don’t we move to Chicago and start a singer-songwriter career?’”

So Berman moved to Chicago to begin his new music career, which UA Center Toppie Hogan says Berman likes to brag about.

“(Berman) always talks about how good of a musician he would be,” Hogan said. “And he wouldn’t make it past the first level in American Idol, but he would blow you away at a campfire.”

But Berman had more to do than his music career. The pay would never be enough for him to get by, so he would take on what he calls “odd-jobs to make money, and for fun.”

“I think at one point he was a Cubs bullpen security guard for two years,” Hogan said. “You can ask him about it and he would point out which of the players were nice and which ones were an a-hole...I mean the guy’s been everywhere.”

But soon enough, a nearby job opportunity opened with Robert Morris University – Illinois to be the assistant coach for their Division 2 American Collegiate Hockey Association team. Berman finally found himself back in the loop of hockey.

“It was not a good paying job, but it was an opportunity to make money doing something I enjoyed,” Berman noted. So he subsequently took the job and coached for two years before another assistant coaching position opened for Robert Morris’ Division-1 team under the famed Tom “Chico” Adrahtas.

“To work under Adrahtas, who in my opinion is the best head coach in the ACHA, and gain the experience I have, I still lean unto this day,” Berman said. “It was quite a ride because we went from unranked to losing by one goal in the National Championship game.”

Berman coached with Adrahtas until 2014 when the Eagles found their way to the ACHA Division 1 National Championship Game against Arizona State.

That same season, Arizona coach Sean Hogan had finished his last year as head coach in Tucson, taking the vacant Ohio University job. Arizona needed a replacement. Campus Recreation began a nationwide search that ended with the hiring of Chad Berman as the new head coach of the Wildcats hockey team.

“I saw a program that was a bit depleted,” Berman stated. “I had an opportunity to put my name and face on and say ‘I could build this my way and do it right’.”

While the hockey team at the University of Arizona is considered “club” under Campus Recreation, Berman has clearly said that he prefers not to use the term Club to define the team.

“The club moniker suggests that it’s a casual entity,” coach explained. “We put way too much time and resources to have it be considered casual.”

Berman noted that he puts in more than 70 hours a week into developing the players and the program. He says that he expects his players show the same commitment he does, and thus using the term ‘club’ is way below the values the team embodies.

But for Berman, his time and effort goes beyond just coaching the team. Toppie Hogan noted that Berman is constantly trying as hard as he can to be more than just a coach, but rather someone who anyone can talk to if they are having any problems.

“(Berman) would run through a wall for any of us,” Hogan noted. “He’s all about trying to build relationships, and do anything to help you in any way possible. And not just in hockey, but in school and life.”

Hogan has also noted that Berman has a much more personable, youthful side to him, compared to any of the other coaches that he has had.

“I’ve never seen somebody get so amped up about fantasy football,” Hogan said. “When we’re on a bus ride from practice in Chandler at 1 a.m., he’ll be running down the aisle asking who’s got the next pick … It’s those little things, he’s a big kid.”

Hogan and Berman have publicly said how proud they are of this current UA Hockey team. Despite all the adversities both have publicly said have affected the team, Berman still has the highest hopes for this year.

“Trust me when I say that this is a Championship-caliber roster we have here. That’s only going to get better year after year,” Berman said flatly. “I believe in these kids, it’s the right group of character and talent; we’re going to do great things, and I can’t wait to show that come second semester here.”

Coach Berman and the Wildcats are set to take on the University of Central Oklahoma Bronchos this weekend at the Tucson Convention Center. The games on Friday and Saturday are scheduled to drop the puck at 2 p.m. MT.