By Ed Flaherty
Their schools are separated by nearly 100 miles, one located near New Hampshire’s Seacoast and the other in the state’s Upper Valley.
When it comes to their high school hockey coaching acumen and philosophies, however, Exeter High School’s Jim Tufts and Hanover High School’s Dick Dodds are cut from the same cloth.
Both have served more than 30 years behind the bench at their respective schools and are currently ranked first (Tufts) and second (Dodds) on New Hampshire’s all-time coaching wins list.
Both coaches are quick to point out that the victories on the ice are only a small part of their stories, secondary to the opportunity to teach and nurture young players.
“I think — and I probably speak for both of us — that the greatest accomplishment that we have enjoyed is the experience of helping kids learn to compete and to work toward having success athletically and academically,” Tufts said. “The value shouldn’t be focused solely on the wins or the titles; it is in the growth and maturation of our kids and the product of a group of kids working hard each season to compete, play the game the right way and to become a team. It’s finding those ‘teachable’ moments in both wins and losses in our classroom.”
As a result of those success stories on and off the ice, both Tufts and Dodds were inducted into the New Hampshire Legends of Hockey Hall of Fame on Oct. 28.
“It’s such an honor to be recognized by the Legends and to join such an incredible group of inductees and to become a member,” said the 54-year-old Dodds. “I’m so humbled.”
“It’s a tremendous honor,” said Tufts, 61. “The Legends of New Hampshire Hockey is a great organization. It’s really promoting hockey in New Hampshire. To join it is an honor. It’s really humbling. I look up to the (members of the Hall of Fame). A lot of them are mentors.”
Tufts and Dodds share another bond, as both have spent their extensive coaching careers in their hometowns. Tufts is in his 36th season at Exeter, while Dodds is in his 31st season at the helm in Hanover.
For both coaches, their roots go much deeper.
Tufts grew up playing hockey in Exeter and played two years of varsity hockey at Phillips Exeter Academy before moving on to play soccer at the University of New Hampshire. He also played hockey for a senior amateur team in Amesbury, Mass., while in college and helped coach Exeter’s youth hockey program.
Following college, Tufts spent two years as an assistant at Winnacunnet High School in nearby Hampton, before returning to Exeter for good. In addition to his high school coaching duties — he is also the school’s boys varsity soccer coach — he has run the town’s Learn to Play Hockey program since its inception in 1983.
“There is such great tradition,” Tufts said. “It’s been a great honor to be involved with kids. Two-thirds of the kids on my roster now I coached as little kids. The tradition is extensive. It’s a wonderful place to coach. We all want our kids to be multisport athletes, we all want our kids to be great students.”
Dodds played at Hanover High School before moving on to a career at St. Lawrence University. He returned to his hometown in 1980 as an assistant varsity coach and JV coach at Hanover before taking over as head coach for the 1982-83 season.
“It is pretty unique,” Dodds said of the opportunity to coach in his hometown. “I give such credit to the community. Growing up here and enjoying hockey so much is what led me to want to pay back all the great memories I had as a kid. The community is so wonderful. It’s a pretty special place to play and coach.”
Entering the 2012-13 high school hockey season, Tufts is first on New Hampshire’s all-time coaching wins list with 444 victories, followed closely by Dodds (430).
Tufts became the first Granite State high school coach to reach the 400-win plateau in 2009. He has won one Division 1 championship and two Division 2 titles. His teams have advanced to the state semifinals 11 times and to five championship games.
Dodds has led Hanover to five Division 1 titles, including three in a four-year span in the last decade. His five championships trail only legendary Notre Dame High School coach Barney LaRoche (16) and current Concord High coach Duncan Walsh (six).
Both coaches are quick to acknowledge that the satisfaction and fulfillment they receive from coaching goes far beyond victories and championships.
“The tradition and what it means to represent Exeter High School hockey (is special),” Tufts said. “I see the alums and the guys who were here before and in many cases I’m coaching their kids. That’s what makes it special for me is to see them as fathers and to see them having success in other areas.
“I was at a wedding of a former EHS athlete (recently) and saw several hockey alums, and they spoke about the camaraderie of the EHS hockey locker room and the feeling of being a part of the tradition and what that meant to them.
One player Tufts coached as a youngster is Peter Maher, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame this year as a player.
That sense of family is felt in Hanover as well.
“It’s such a treat to be able to go to the rink every day and work with the kids. It’s such a unique environment,” Dodds said. “The parents are so supportive and the kids are so motivated and all of that starts at home. It’s a special part of the Hanover community. It is a real sense of family. Players who have graduated come back and watch games and want to know what is happening with the team. Once they graduate they want to stay involved.”
Through the years Tufts and Dodds have also established a lasting friendship.
“It’s perfect for me to go (into the Hall of Fame) with Dick Dodds, who I consider a great coach and a great friend,” Tufts said.
“We are very similar in how we approach the game,” Dodds said. “It’s always a hard-fought game when it comes down to playing a Coach Tufts-coached team. We’ve been friends since day one. The relationship has grown through the years. He’s just a great man, a terrific friend and I’ve always admired him.”
At a banquet honoring Dodds for 30 years of coaching at Hanover High School, Tufts made the trip north to honor his friend and spoke at the celebration.
“The number of ex-players who were there was great,” Tufts said. “He had guys that he coached 10, 20, 30 years ago and they were there to honor him. It was wonderful to be a part of that.”
“It was a real surprise when he came up on a Friday night, driving 2½ hours,” Dodds said. “It meant a lot to me.”
Dodds figured Tufts returned home after midnight that night, but knew his friend would be up at 7 a.m. for his Learn to Play Hockey program.
Early mornings and hockey go hand-in-hand and provide special memories.
“It would be too easy to say the championship years,” Dodds said when reflecting on highlights of his career. “There is so much more than that. Every day is special and brings its own memories. The alarm goes off at 4 a.m. because we practice before school and that’s what I will remember most, getting up at 4 and can’t wait to get to the rink.”
This article originally appeared in the January 2013 issue of New England Hockey Journal.