Steele named head coach of Twin Cities Thunder near his hometown in Maine
Just four years after graduating from Liberty University with a B.S. in Interdisciplinary Studies with concentrations in physical science, biomedical sciences, and business, former Flames ACHA Division I men’s hockey player Colt Steele has landed a head coaching position with the Twin City Thunder’s Premier team near his hometown of Lewiston, Maine.
“After graduating from Liberty, I knew I wanted to stay involved in the game of hockey, but didn’t know at what capacity,” said Steele, 29, who has served as head ice instructor for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) in Augusta, Maine, and as a strength and conditioning coach for athletes around the state in recent years. “I love being able to start my coaching career at the juniors level and would love to take it further and see where it goes, but I am definitely excited for the opportunity that is ahead of me right now.”
The program, for players ages 17 to 20, competes in the top Tier III junior hockey league in the nation, the Premier Division in the United States Premier Hockey League (USPHL). The Thunder plays in the 1,200-seat Norway Savings Bank Arena in Auburn, the second of the twin cities which have a combined population of around 60,000.
For Steele, who scored 17 goals and distributed 25 assists in four seasons as a forward/defenseman for the Flames after playing his juniors career with the New Hampshire Junior Monarchs and in the Empire (N.Y.) Junior Hockey League, this is his first head coaching job. Last season, he served as an assistant coach for Lewiston High School — where he played his senior season — holding practices on one of the two rinks in the same arena where the Thunder play.
“I am definitely excited to help young student-athletes to reach the next level and pursue their dreams, like I was able to pursue mine,” said Steele, who was a two-time ACHA Academic All-American at Liberty. “There is no place I would rather be than in my hometown community. Growing up in the hockey community has made me aware of how important hockey is, and being trusted with the task of developing these student-athletes is an honor.”
He noted that while Twin Cities’ National Collegiate Development Conference (NCDC) team is a Tier II juniors program that this past season had 14 players recruited to play for NCAA Division I programs this coming fall, the Premier team produces primarily NCAA Division III and ACHA Division I and II prospects.
“It is in a building phase, and hopefully we can move these players up to the NCDC level and the college level, and kids will want to come in here and be a part of the program that we’re building,” Steele said. “That’s the goal.”
“We are confident that Colt will bring the same work ethic he had as a player to the position,” added Dan Hodge, head coach of the Thunder’s NCDC program and co-owner of the organization. “He has a great knowledge of the game and we know he will take the team to the next level of success.”
Steele only expects to have a few players back from last season’s team and he and Alex Drulia — the Thunder’s Director of Scouting who coached the Premier team to the playoffs last season — have their work cut out for them in the recruiting effort to solidify a 25-28-man roster by the time preseason camp starts in late August or early September.
“It’s exciting meeting a bunch of new kids and building those relationships with them,” said Steele, who has multiple Canadian and European players coming in addition to prospects from Texas, Colorado, and throughout New England. “We have a couple kids from our local community which will hopefully help to connect with our fanbase.”
He said he would like to create a culture similar to what he experienced as a player at Liberty from 2014-18.
“I would love to model the program after my time at Liberty, being a team that battles every night, one that’s close-knit, where you build those lifelong friendships and are a team that loves to be there and loves to be with their teammates,” Steele said. “We want to build good character kids, who will be of value to the community, and also at the same time build a program that’s winning games and at the top of the standings and competing for a league championship every year.”
Steele noted that Flames Head Coach Kirk Handy was one of the first to reach out to congratulate him on his new role.
“He has done a great job with that program, and it is exciting to see the leaps and bounds it has made since I left,” Steele said. “I am very grateful for him giving me an opportunity to come to Liberty and play, and I hope to be able to pass that onto my players in the future.”
Steele has an excellent support system in place within the Thunder organization.
“(NCDC Head) Coach Hodge and (Assistant) Coach (Cam) Robichaud and (Assistant) Coach (Caleb) LaBrie have all been there for a couple of years and know what it takes,” he said. “They’ve been great in showing me the ropes, help me with recruiting, and building the program so we’re all on the same page.”
He is eager to get started training his players to compete against the USPHL’s top Premier teams.
“I am still trying to learn about the league,” Steele said. “We are going to be tough to play against every night. I am big on systems and preparing them for that next level, understanding how to be student-athletes. We want to be playing at our best when we get out there and be prepared so that whatever people throw our way, we’ll be ready for it.”
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer