It’s hard to win games as a head coach, it’s harder to win many games, and it’s even harder to win championships.
Longtime Bishop Hendricken hockey coach Jim Creamer recently announced his retirement from coaching, and was able to say that he accomplished all three.
Creamer, a 1985 graduate of Hendricken, took the club over in 2001. Prior to his hiring, the Hawks had never won a state title, and were one of the many teams that just could not get over the hump against RI powerhouses such as Mount St. Charles, Burrillville, La Salle. However, that changed in the 2005-06 campaign when Creamer helped guide Hendricken to its first championship.
The winning continued from that point on, as the Hawks have wrapped up six state championships, and won over 300 games under his direction … not to mention the many playoff appearances and victories included.
As we all know, a Hendricken team claiming a state championship and dominating is not breaking news, or something that is out of the ordinary. But for Creamer to take over the program and have that level of success in almost two decades is nothing short of impressive.
I was only able to cover one season of Hendricken hockey, so much of this column is based off of research versus being able to speak from experience, but numbers don’t lie, and there are very few hockey coaches in this state that have a resume like Creamer’s.
What I can tell you from experience, based on my one season of covering the Hawks, the one thing that stood out to me most about the club was its stability. Whether it was at practice or during games, the Hawks were organized, had a system, a routine, and stuck by it. From what I have heard from current and past players also, it is clear that that program has not changed a whole lot since day 1.
One thing that always interests me is when a system falls flat or becomes outdated, and a coach is put in a position where they need to change things up. Sometimes change is for the better, and breaths new life into a program. Sometimes a coach’s change falls flat and the program goes into a downward spiral. However, Creamer and his staff never made those types of changes, and after nearly two decades, were never forced to.
Of course, every year is different and I am sure there are aspects of the Hendricken team that have changed. In terms of the big picture approach though, Creamer found what worked, stuck by it, and got results on a yearly basis. Creating that stability and making sure it lasts for that long is incredible. Talk about consistency.
In my opinion, the greatest duty of a head coach is to set the example, and the tone, especially at the high school level. Oftentimes, high school kids can be hard to reach and are sometimes too energetic for their own good. That is one thing that I think is totally overlooked with high school coaches, the ability to manage the personalities of a group of teenagers. It is expected at the youth level, and by the time kids are in college they are adults, but that in-between group in high school is unique, and sometimes we forget just how young these kids are.
Whether it was Creamer himself, or his athletes, the Hawks were always very pleasant to deal with, very composed, and grounded. Some of that possibly came from their loss in the state championship the season before to La Salle, but either way, it did not feel like covering a high school team.
One of the best things about sports is finishing on top, which is another feat that Creamer accomplished. After falling short in an epic state championship to rival La Salle in 2018, the Hawks came back to enjoy arguably their best regular season ever, which led to a dominant postseason that concluded with a two-game sweep of the Rams up at Brown.
I am not sure how long Creamer was considering retirement, or if anyone inside the building knew that it was on the table, but I could not imagine feeling ready to hang them up but then coming up short in the championship game. Maybe retirement was totally off of his radar at that point, but if it was something he was considering, losing in the final game of the season would be a tough situation to face. Missing the playoffs, or losing early in the postseason, those would be easier endings to accept, but the championship game? Totally different.
Regardless though, Creamer and the Hawks made things right in March, and Creamer was able to go out on top. Not many coaches, or even players for that matter, are able to leave the game on their terms while winning. Creamer gets to do both, and he has more than earned it.
Where will the Hawks go from here? Well, newly-appointed coach Mike Soscia has plenty of experience, and worked under Creamer for 10 years as an assistant. I’m sure he will pick things up where Creamer left off, and maybe add a few new wrinkles of his own. Either way, it seems like the Hawks will be right in the thick of the championship hunt again in 2019-20.
Overall though, Creamer reached a level of success that very few coaches at any level do, and I am sure the Hendricken hockey team will miss his leadership moving forward.