(Photo courtesy of Miami Athletics)

It didn't take long after the loss before I knew that I had to bounce back. My parents had raised me to be that way. Not just as Roman Catholics, but also as Italians.

I never needed to coach a single game of hockey to learn what perseverance and hard work was all about. I got that from my parents, who immigrated from Southern Italy as young adults in the late '50s and early '60s.

Jobs were hard to come by back in Italy at that time, so at 14 years old my mom moved with her family to Toronto. She didn't speak English, but managed to get a job as a seamstress. I can't imagine what that was like for her, navigating life in a new country and not knowing the language, but she is one of the toughest people I know. A few years later she met my dad, who decided to also immigrate after his two years of mandatory military service in Italy. It was an equally brave decision for my dad, who only got to see his parents two or three times in his first 15 years after immigrating.

My parents were both Catholics, but my dad grew in his faith as he grew closer to my mom. Together they raised me to be a Catholic, but much of my faith came from within. I became an altar boy at a 7 or 8 years old, and that was a huge deal for me as a kid. I served at a different mass than the one my parents attended, so it was a chance for me to grow closer to God on my own.

Even at that age, being in church was a calming thing for me, and something I looked forward to. Being in church gave me a lot of great values like belief and perseverance, which I would soon have to use at the local ice rink.

When I was younger, I was not the biggest or fastest player. Nobody really thought I could play at a high level, let alone Division 1 hockey, but in my mind I always knew I had someone in my corner. And for me, that someone was the Lord. He loved me the same whether or not I could put the puck in the net, but it just so happened that His plan was for me to land a scholarship at Miami University.

It wasn't the Miami with palm trees and sunny weather, but rather the Miami located outside of Cincinnati with cold temperatures and amazing hockey fans. I served on the team from 1990-1994, and was fortunate enough to be a tri-captain my senior year.

Five years later, I was named head coach of my alma mater. I was the youngest head coach in Division 1 hockey, and early on it might have showed. Long before I was ever fighting for National Championships, I was just trying to keep the program relevant.

Page 1 Page 3 Page 4 Page 5

Thomas Hager