The Army name has been synonymous with Providence College for seven decades.
Tom Army was the captain of the Friars in 1952-53 when the program moved from a club team to varsity.
His son, Tim, was a pivotal part of the Friars’ most successful class, which went 97-50-8 over four years. In 1985, he was the captain and led PC to the NCAA championship game against Rensselaer, but lost to the Adam Oates-led Engineers, 2-1, before going on to a coaching career.
The latest Army to stand out at the school is senior forward Derek, Tim’s eldest son. Although Derek doesn’t have the scoring prowess of his father, the 22-year-old carries on the legacy in his own way.
“He’s self-made,’’ said PC coach Nate Leaman. “He’s not one of those guys who oozes talent. His talent is working hard, making the most of everything he has, and competing every shift. He’s really been a pleasure to coach. He’s such a great kid, he’s got great character.’’
Derek grew up on the Providence campus and learned its importance to his family very early. His mother, Sue, was a track star at the school. His parents were married at the school and he was christened there. His first playground was racing around the Friars’ locker room during his father’s tenure as assistant coach.
He grew up dreaming about playing for PC and there was never any doubt that is where he belonged even when his father became the Friars’ head coach in 2005. Some kids are not cut out to play for a parent, but Derek was different. It didn’t deter him in the least.
‘“He’s self made,’’ said PC coach Nate Leaman. “He’s not one of those guys who oozes talent. His talent is working hard, making the most of everything he has and competing every shift. He’s really been a pleasure to coach. He’s such a great kid, he’s got great character.’’’
“We never really talked about it,’’ said Tim, now an assistant coach with the Colorado Avalanche. “Our approach, my wife and I, was to see how things transpired because I was the coach there at the time. It wasn’t much of a discussion. He wanted to go to school there, he wanted to play there. I think it was very important to him, carrying on the family legacy.’’
Every time he would visit his grandparents’ house, Derek would see the photos of his grandfather and father in their Friar uniforms and it just reinforced the message that PC was where he belonged.
“I always wanted to be the third picture next to it,’’ said Derek, who remained close to the Providence program despite the family’s travels while his father was coaching in the NHL. “Just watching my dad as a coach, it just kind of fell into position. We never really talked about it. He became coach to me and that’s how I treated him and that’s how the guys treated the situation, too. It’s special. I don’t think many kids get to play for their fathers at that level. It was pretty cool.’’
When Tim Army was fired by Providence in March 2011 after posting a 66-116-28 mark in six seasons, he rushed to tell his son so he wouldn’t hear the news from anyone else. As much as Derek was upset, he said being around hockey his whole life made it easier to accept.
“From a family perspective, it was a little bit tough,’’ said Derek, who said he never considered transferring. “For me, it was something I knew I had to adjust to. It stung when I first heard it, I was upset, but more because I thought, ‘What could I have done more to help him out?’ ’’
Tim Army said the termination came with a silver lining — the opportunity for Derek to make a name for himself under a different coach.
“I coached him for a year and it was great,’’ said Tim. “It’s the right place for him. He was able to make his own niche without me over his shoulder. I think there’s an added pressure that you’re playing for your father and that can be difficult. It allowed him to grow outside of my influence and to grow under someone else with a different view and a different approach.’’
Leaman said he felt it was important to talk to Derek about the situation just to clear the air.
“The only thing I discussed with him was that I was going to treat him like every other guy,’’ said Leaman. “He knew that. We just had to kind of get the elephant out of the room a little bit. To be honest, I think Derek had a lot of pressure on himself playing for his father.”
Derek said he’s very much at home with Leaman and his staff.
“He’s a great coach,’’ he said. “He came in and changed the culture, he got us working hard and sticking to details. We’ve turned the corner, I think, and hopefully we’ll keep playing very well.’’
Leaman and his staff want to return the Friars to prominence. After winning 14 games in Leaman’s first year and losing in the Hockey East semifinals, and winning 17 games the second year before losing in the league semifinals again, fifth-ranked PC has 12 victories in just 17 games this season, including a 4-1 victory over Army Friday night in West Point, N.Y.
“I’m thrilled to be part of this,’’ said Derek. “I couldn’t ask for a better group of guys. It’s going good right now but we want to keep building. I think [the last couple of years] have really helped us this year. It’s a foundation. It’s not good enough to just get there, we want to keep going.’’
Leaman said in addition to Derek’s work ethic, he is also the most vocal player on the team.
“When the team is around the net, it’s Derek who is talking,’’ said Leaman. “He’s a guy who shows up every day. He just keeps going and competing and working. I don’t think he knows anything else.’’
And he doesn’t know anywhere else, either.
“He was always born to play there,’’ said Tim. “I want him to be driven by the legacy, but I don’t want it to be a burden.’’
He need not worry. Derek Army said it was meant to be.
“It’s something so unique,’’ he said. “You don’t always get to do this and kind of carry a legacy for your family. It means a lot to my family. I absolutely have been truly blessed to have this, to be a Friar.’’