His name is synonymous with youth and junior level hockey in the Metro Detroit area as a coach of more than 35 years. And while Dan Vasquez has decided to retire from coaching he will remain with the Detroit Fighting Irish as general manager and director of hockey operations.
Before I ever met Vasquez — and that was at a Detroit Tigers baseball game a couple of summers ago — I had heard of him. And much of what I had heard dealt with his year-round involvement with hockey and his passion for the game.
The hockey teams that Vasquez has been involved with — not only in Detroit but in Chicago and Cleveland among other stops — are numerous to mention and impressive at the same time.
But as the aforementioned Detroit Fighting Irish continues to be a part of the U.S. Premier Hockey League while developing an affiliation with chairman Richard Gallant of the well-known Islanders Hockey Club of the Eastern Hockey Federation, Vasquez has decided to step away from coaching to focus more on the management end.
“The recent affiliations to the Islanders and the organization goals of (Fighting Irish owners) Lisa and Mark Cruz have a great part in my decision as I can spend more time on focusing on the development of youth hockey and the growth of the game in the Detroit area,” Vasquez told HockeyNewsNorth.com.
As Vasquez — who also holds a day job away from hockey — moves on from coaching, many memories stay close to him.
“I have been blessed to have been a bench boss since January of 1979 and literally could fill a warehouse with the hockey jackets and memorabilia from all of the associations and organizations that I have been part of. Then there are all of the fantastic people I have met in the arenas — they are why I am still in the game today and will be until the day the boss upstairs tells me differently,” he relayed.
While times and the game have changed, Vasquez said his philosophy remains the same.
“That is, show a player that you love the game by your enthusiasm, respect the game by your reverence to its traditions and honour the game by reminding the youth of those who made it possible for you to play the game.
“To this day I still believe that this is what creates youth players into adult players and coaches into administrators and what most amazes me is that many of my business associates and closest friends are the same guys I played squirt, pee wee and bantam hockey with who were fortunate to play for coaches who lived by those rules,” Vasquez pointed out.
To be sure, Vasquez is excited about the future of the Fighting Irish program in Detroit.
“The recent affiliation of the Fighting Irish with a storied program such as the Islanders brings myself and Lisa and Mark Cruz one step closer to our organization’s goal which is to have a role in a hockey player’s development from novice to collegiate.
“The Islanders are a success story in doing that and their approach to youth hockey development is accented by creating an environment that is consistent in teaching the game and making the game affordable for inclusion by all. I am completely stoked at the possibilities for Detroit youth hockey with the influence of the Islanders organization,” Vasquez noted.
And there is more.
“In addition, I have become involved with the Clark Park Youth Hockey program which is a free-to-play youth program in inner city Detroit. The program is a non-profit and really represents what the game is about — giving back,” Vasquez relayed.
But as Vasquez steps away from behind the Fighting Irish bench, his successor is no stranger.
“I am very pleased that Lisa and Mark (Cruz) allowed me to choose my successor and there is no clearer choice than Pete Flynn, who has worked with me for nearly 20 years.
“As the new head coach, Pete will be joined by Steve Towers who will handle player development and will be assisting me on the business development side of the organization. Assistant coaches Rob Speer and Rob Danyo will also return,” Vasquez confirmed.
As for Vasquez, he may be retiring from coaching. But he is certainly not retiring from hockey.