Williamstown, Mass. – When a collegiate hockey coach starts passing Bob Johnson, Gino Gaspirini, and Doug Woog and is nipping at the heels of Dean Blais, Craig Dahl and mentor Mike Gilligan for total career wins you know you’re in rarified territory. For Eveleth, Minn., native and Willliams College (Mass.) coach Bill Kangas, he accomplished win number 400 on Nov. 16 with a 5-1 victory over NESCAC rival Bowdoin on the Ephs home ice in Willianstown, Mass.
“To be honest, I didn’t know it was 400,” Kangas said. “I was told before the game that it could be the 400th win.”
He told the hometown Berkshire Eagle, “It’s instant reflection. It kind of brings up a lot of emotion. Now, you think about past years,” he said, “and how time flies. It’s a great group of guys and I’m proud to be coaching them. To do it at home is even more special and the way we did it the way we competed.”
First-year goalie Evan Ruschil stopped 40 shots and said, “I knew he was at 399. I was like I had to do this for coach.”
But, in typical Kangas fashion, he’s not dwelling on his career wins but rather the task at hand which is another successful season for his hockey team.
“It’s nice to get the wins at home,” said Kangas, who earned his 399th win versus Colby at home the previous day. “Enjoy it now and get ready for next week.”
Kangas, who grew up in Eveleth, Minn., home of the US Hockey Hall of Fame, earned some ice time as a ninth grader and was a three-year regular on defense at Eveleth High School for the Golden Bears. A power-house during the 1975-76 season, the team consisted of seven players that went on to play Division I hockey and several others to Division III hockey. That season, the team finished with a 21-3-0 record, reeled off 21 straight wins and won the Iron Range Conference title. But, unfortunately for a team that appeared destined for the state hockey tournament, they were shelved by Grand Rapids in the conference championship game.
The multi-sport Kangas played two more seasons for the Golden Bears, and in addition to his athletic success, was also disciplined in his academics and was named valedictorian of his graduating class. Mulling over offers including Colorado College, University of Minnesota-Duluth and Harvard, he eventually settled on the University of Vermont, joining former teammate Craig Homola, who at the time was gaining legendary status for his on-ice success at UVM. A four-year regular, Kangas played 113 games and was named captain of the squad in the 1981-82 season.
Deciding to stay in New England, Kangas entered the coaching profession, joining mentor Mike Gilligan’s staff at his alma mater in 1984, the same year Gilligan was hired as head coach, and remained there as a recruiter and assistant coach until the 1988-89 season. During this time, the Catamounts had an impressive run with 84 wins and an NCAA Tournament appearance. He was hired for the head coaching position at Williams College for the 1989-90 season and has compiled a 400-261-65 record into his 30th season.
During his tenure, Kangas has produced seven All-Americans, was named New England Coach of the Year in 1991, NESCAC Coach of the Year in 2006 and Finalist for National Coach of the Year in 2006. Additionally, his team was NESCAC regular season champ in 2016 and he was named NESCAC Coach of the Year and was a Finalist for Division III Coach of the Year. He also holds school records for wins in a season (18) and unbeaten streak (10).
Appropriately, the academic-minded Kangas (who has a Masters Degree in education) has carved out a highly successful career at Williams College, one of the top private liberal arts colleges in the country. Primarily an undergraduate college located in the scenic Berkshire Mountains of northwest Massachusetts, it has an endowment in excess of $2 billion or $1.17 million per student. Highly selective, it’s admission rate hovers around 12 percent, making recruiting for the hockey program that much more difficult in finding high performing students and athletes. The college has produced nine Pulitzer Prize winners, 71 members of the US Congress, 22 United States Governors, a United States President (James Garfield) and 40 Rhodes Scholars.
Lest you pigeon hole Williams as purely an academic institution, the school has a hockey legacy going back to 1909. Williams has won 21 of the last 23 National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics Learfield Cups awarded annually for the most success in NCAA sponsored championships. Most recently, both the Women’s and Men’s 2019 Division III individual golf champions were Williams College athletes. Of interest is Kangas, who was an assistant coach for the women’s golf team for five years, took over as head coach on an interim basis in 2014-15 and performed head-coaching double duty as the men’s ice hockey coach as well as leading the women’s golf team to the National Golf title.
Currently, Kangas is 43rd all-time in career collegiate wins and 10th overall among Minnesota-born coaches trailing Bob Peters ( #5, 744), Don Lucia (#8, 736), Jeff Sauer (#10, 655), Don Brose (#23, 540), Don Roberts (#26, 502), Frank Serratore (#33, 448), Terry Skrypek (#38, 415), Dean Blais (#41, 408) and Craig Dahl (#42, 408). He earned his 300th win on Jan., 25, 2012, with an 8-2 win over Wentworth College.
He has his team off to a strong start in 2019-20, currently in first place in the NESCAC with a 4-0-0 record and outscoring his opponents by a 14-4 margin. His current roster contains three Minnesotans – assistant captain Tyler Scott (Bloomington, Minn.), Myles Cunningham (Minneapolis, Minn.) and Nick Altmann (Duluth, Minn.).
Having staked out his entire coaching career on the east coast, Kangas’s accomplishments have probably gone fairly unnoticed in the Midwest. With no current plans to slow down, the affable and hard-working coach will continue to climb the ladder of career wins and make those Evelethians proud of another native son accomplishing great things in the world of hockey.
Kangas laughed and said, “I’m turning 60 this week and I’ll make one big run – one last push at it. But, I don’t think I’ll reach 500.”
And, by the way, I’m doubly proud being an Evelethian and also his brother-in-law. Congrats coach.