As children, we idolize the sports figures that are thrust in our lives. Looking up to them and doing everything we can to be just like them. For Dean Fuller, the Fitchburg State men’s ice hockey head coach, it was one local team and played that shaped his love of hockey.
Bobby Orr and the “Big, Bad Bruins” as they are affectionately known ruled the National Hockey League in the 1960-70’s. It was during that time a young aspiring hockey player in Fuller began his love affair with the game.
“I am a product of the Big, Bad Bruins and Bobby Orr,” Fuller said. “I had a rink about 150 yards from my house. The whole neighbor played hockey right from the start which is how I got involved.”
Fuller knew at a young age that he wanted to do two things in his life: teach and coach hockey. That was one of the main factors in choosing to attend Fitchburg State as they had what he considered one of the best special education teaching programs in the state. It also didn’t hurt that the hockey team seemed like a good match for him too.
“I first knew I wanted to be a coach when I was 16,” Fuller said. “I wanted to be a teacher-coach. I had no idea that I would end up at the college ranks. I thought I would just teach and coach at the high school level. When I graduated from Fitchburg State, there were some opportunities and was hired on as the assistant coach to where I am sitting now.”
After graduating from Fitchburg State in 1978, Fuller was hired on to serve as an assistant under Jim Gorman. He would serve as Gorman’s assistant before taking over as the head coach in 1984, a position he proudly remains in today.
Looking back at his time not only as a student-athlete but as a coach, it was easy to pick his greatest mentor.
“Everyone has people they lean on in their career and lives,” Fuller said. “Jim Gorman gave me a lot of responsibilities and taught me the importance of practice, preparation and organization. I still follow a lot of his patterns to this day.”
Since taking over the helm as the Falcons head coach, Fuller has amassed a 506-297-51 (.622) record which is the 10th most career wins among all-active DIII coaches and 13th among all DIII coaches. The team has claimed three MASCAC regular season titles. During the 2011 MASCAC Tournament, the fourth-seeded Falcons won the title with a 6-5 overtime win over second-seed Salem State.
One of his personal highlights as a coach was in 1990 when his team beat Connecticut College to claim the ECAC North/South Championship. Although that memory was a highlight of his coaching career, all of his teams are extremely special to him.
“I think all of my teams are important,” Fuller said. “I liked my early teams in the 1980’s because they helped our program get to a championship stage in 1990 when we won the ECAC Championship. You remember the championship teams and the special players. I think all the kids that have been put the jersey on are part of the process and proud to be Fitchburg State athletes.”
Now as a retired teacher, Fuller uses most of his time to focus on hockey. Despite hockey being a big part of his life, the coach does have a few hobbies off the ice.
“I am not that exciting,” Fuller said laughing. “When you are raising three kids, coaching and teaching, you don’t have a lot of time for other things. Now, I enjoy ocean fishing and playing golf. I just go year to year. Looking forward to the next season. I joke with people that once the season is over, I am just killing time until the next one starts.”
Seeing the conference change from the early years as a student-athlete to the past 39 as an assistant and head coach, Fuller appreciates all the progress the league has made. From the years when one team dominated the league to now with the triple round robin conference schedule, the tournament format and NCAA bid, he believes the league is stronger than ever.
Never one to take off his teacher and coach hat, Fuller has some sound advice for the MASCAC student-athletes who are in or will be entering college athletics soon.
“Be smart and dedicate yourself to what you do,” Fuller said. “Go to all your classes. Make good decisions off the playing field. Enjoy the people that are around you. It is a quick four years and you will never have a relationship like the ones you have with the people sitting across from you in the locker room.”