Don’t let Brack Healy’s age fool you. At 27, the Cutters’ second-year head coach has already been behind the bench for eight years – four of them leading a high school varsity squad.
A member of NJSIAA’s prestigious 100 Point Club as a player, Healy starred under Bruce Parker at Montclair High School, then skated briefly for Division-III Rowan before calling it a career and transferring to Montclair State University to focus on teaching and coaching.
Healy spent five years as an assistant at Montclair High School before landing his first head coaching gig at West Orange. After a year at West Orange, he was hired to lead Montclair Kimberley Academy.
In his first season at MKA, Healy took a team that had finished 6-19 the year before to its first state playoff victory in 15 years, finishing 14-7-4, and enjoying a four-week stint in the Star Ledger’s Top 20 Rankings. The success earned him NJ Power Ranking’s Coach of the Year.
Healy moved on to Fair Lawn last year, hoping to eventually slide into both coaching and teaching in a public school district. But his transition into a Fair Lawn classroom has been delayed, Healy said, because of the precarious situation for public educators in New Jersey. For now, he remains an English teacher at Bloomfield Tech, where he also coaches soccer and baseball.
Healy's ties to Cory Robinson, Fair Lawn’s athletic director, helped land him a job coaching the Cutters.
While playing at Montclair, Healy actually faced Robinson, who at the time was the Cutters’ hockey coach. When Healy later coached at Montclair, he did so under Pat Verney, one of Robinson’s former players at Hudson Catholic and assistants at Fair Lawn.
So when the Cutters’ head hockey coaching job opened up before last season, Robinson knew Healy’s style and system of play would fit right in.
“It was a no-brainer to hire Brack,” Robinson said. “Our mindset is very similar -- like the ideas and the expectations and philosophy on defense when it comes to hockey.”
That defensive philosophy? “All defense,” Healy said. “We sport a defense-first system.”
“Defense wins games,” Robinson opined. “Everything else after that takes care of itself.”
Because the hockey season started before other winter sports this year, Robinson’s been able to take in each of the Cutters’ first three games – all wins.
“It’s just nice to see that they’ve played three close games that they could have lost, but they’ve won every game,” he said. “There seems to be some camaraderie that’s being built. All three coaches are working well with them. Again they could be 0-3, but they’re 3-0.”
The camaraderie, junior defenseman Sean Milnes said, has been developed through a series of team bonding outings that have brought the guys together, including a recent team dinner at Applebee's that Healy arranged.
“Coach Healy, he wants to get to know you and wants to be your friend, but he also wants to be your coach,” Milnes said. “If we respect him, he respects us the same way.”
“They feel like they can come to him,” Robinson said of Healy, whom he called a great communicator. “But when he wants to make his point, he can make his point… He’s not laid back and he’s not too strict. He falls right in the middle and it works for him.”
“I’m not a yeller,” Healy said of his coaching style. “I’m very much into discipline, but I don’t like to yell.”
Healy said he considers himself a player’s coach because he tries to build a relationship with his players, but that said, he also expects a lot out of them.
“I demand their best effort at all times,” he said. “I’m really no nonsense. I don’t put up with dumb penalties, laziness, poor work ethic. When they play for us they’re going to have to work harder or they’re not going to play.”
Both Milnes and the team’s leading scorer Justin Ritter said the entire squad has bought into Healy’s defense-first mentality
“He’s really focused on defense and that’s what we need,” Milnes said.
“We don’t have the skill that most other teams have so we have to play defense and stick to the system,” added Ritter, whose Ice House Avalanche travel team he said is just the opposite. “[On my travel team], we have skill, but we have no defense. So most of the games we lose because we don’t go defense first.”
Milnes said the philosophy has been a major shift from the team’s previous coach, Mike Goodrich, who’s now at St. Peter’s Prep.
“My freshman year we had a big offensive guy, [North Jersey Ice Hockey Player of the Year] Tyler Novielli. He would just take the puck and just score,” Milnes said. “That would be our offense and maybe a couple other guys helping out, but it wasn’t focused on defense, it was focused around him.”
Without Novielli, Healy had to alter the team’s style.
“We’ve switched gears and we’ve gone to all defense,” he said. “We’re trying to keep our opponents off the scoreboard, trying to get pucks out of the zone. Just get to the red line and get pucks deep if we don’t have numbers. We’re a very defensive minded hockey team now.”
Along with Healy's coaching style, comes a related coaching philosophy that focuses on teamwork, discipline and responsibility.
“My job is to make sure my players are working hard, making smart decisions – both on and off the ice – and playing for each other,” Healy said in a 2009 feature article on NJPowerRanking.com. ”I would rather build character in losses, than destroy character in wins.”
The approach seems to be working.
When asked about personal goals for the season, defenseman Sean Milnes responded that he had none.
“No personal goals," he said. "Team goals. I’d rather win a game than have a hat trick.”