Rode

Rode: Red Deer’s Mark Bolding coaching women’s hockey at Yale

Mark Bolding reached a point in his life when he had to make a decision between staying in the workforce or turning to coaching.

It was an easy decision for the Red Deer native, who is head coach of the Yale Bulldogs women’s hockey team.

“After graduating from Norwich University in 1995 I got my first real job in Chicago, but early in October I got a call from the men’s coach at Norwich asking if I was interested in being an assistant, so I had to make a decision,” he explained. “I was doing okay but I felt it was more fun coaching than being an engineer.”

He spent four years with the men’s program, helping them win an NCAA III championship, before once again stepping away from the bench.

“Like any young coach you get to a point where you’re not sure what you want to do, so I started working for an engineering firm in the (Northfield, VT.) area.”

Norwich didn’t have a varsity women’s hockey program at the time, but a number of players played with a club program.

“The girls were playing for fun, but I had an inkling there would be a varsity team in the future.”

He spent six years with the club team before starting the varsity women’s program from scratch in 2007.

“My dad was a teacher and I was a bit like him in that I wanted to teach and coaching is a lot like that,” said Bolding, who put together an impressive resume at Norwich.

He coached the Cadets for 12 years, amassing a 266-68-22 record and becoming only the seventh coach to win 200 games in Division III.

He was named the American Hockey Coaches Association coach of the year four times in 2010, ‘11, ‘12 and ‘18. He took the Cadets to the NCAA Division III tournament 10 times, winning in 2011 and ‘18.

During the 12 year period, he had the opportunity to move to the men’s program.

“The opportunity was there, but the women’s program was perfect for me,” he said. “I enjoyed their passion and drive and basically they’re darn good hockey players.”

Bolding was born in Red Deer but spent the early part of his life in Sylvan Lake. His parents moved just east of Red Deer early on and his dad was a teacher at Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School. Mark and his brother attended LTCHS but he played the majority of his hockey in Sylvan Lake.

“I played one year in Red Deer with the AAA bantam team,” he said. “We had a very strong program and won the Purolator Cup (in 1986).”

Red Deer didn’t have a AAA midget team at the time, so Mark moved to Medicine Hat.

“I was a Western Hockey League want-to-be at the time and felt that was best for me,” he said.

He did play three games with the Medicine Hat Tigers of the WHL in 1987-88 before joining Weyburn in 1989-90 and ‘90-‘91. The talented defenceman joined Norwich the following season.

“That was the beginning and I never really left the States after that,” he said.

Although he still has strong connections to the Red Deer area as his parents and “a couple” siblings still live here.

Mark showed leadership qualities from the beginning, being named captain of the Cadets for three of his four seasons there. He finished his career with 94 points, including 73 assists, which places him among the all-time leaders at the university.

While he enjoyed his time at Norwich, like any coach he was looking down the road.

“I really appreciated what Norwich did for me and I liked the Vermont area but like any coach you strive to reach the highest level and when the Yale position came up it was an opportunity to go to Division I.”

In one aspect Yale was much like Norwich in that the players don’t receive scholarships.

“They don’t give scholarships in the Ivy League,” Mark explained. “It’s financial need. First, you need to have the academic standing to get in and if the family is financially secure they’re asked to pay more. If a family can’t afford as much there’s more financial aid for them. Basically, they pay what they can afford.”

Bolding made an immediate impression on the Yale Bulldogs program, taking them to a 17-15-0 record in 2019-20, the first time in 12 years they had a winning record.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the league cancelled the 2020-21 season.

“It was tough as some other schools ran a limited schedule, but our kids took the year off,” said Bolding. “So we’re certainly looking forward to this season.”

Bolding says he will have a strong recruiting class.

“We have some commitments from Canada and one from Russia. What we do have is two recruiting classes, so we’ll have a lot of players. It’s good in that there’ll be a lot of competition for playing time, but tough in that we can only dress so many.”

As for his future?

“I’m a Canadian citizen, so I wouldn’t mind being involved with the national program,” he said. “You never know what else. At this time there’s no women’s pro league, but hopefully, that will surface shortly.”

Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at danrode@shaw.ca