Coach Profile: Don Vaughan, Men’s Ice Hockey

Men’s Ice Hockey Head Coach Don Vaughan began his tenure behind the bench at Colgate in 1992 when he replaced longtime coach Terry Slater who tragically died of a stroke. A former college hockey player at St. Lawrence University and later an assistant coach at Cornell University, Vaughan was determined to continue his involvement with hockey in the East Coast Athletic Conference — a league he was familiar with.

When the Colgate position came open I knew I had a chance to remain in the league I believe so much in and be at a university where I would get to work with true student-athletes,” said Vaughan. “I was hired by then AD Mark Murphy ‘77 and through the interview process, it became apparent that we shared similar ideas and a vision for the program moving forward. Mark took a chance on a young assistant coach and I will be forever grateful for that chance. I also had first-hand knowledge and experience on what it takes to win in this league at highly selective schools with no athletic scholarships.”

In his first few seasons coaching at Colgate, Vaughan took over a group of players that had seniors who had experienced an ECAC championship and a run to the NCAA title game in 1989-90. Three years into his tenure, Vaughan’s Raiders advanced to the ECAC semifinals.

“The first few years were great fun. I leaned on that group of leaders and they helped me navigate so many things that were new to me as a head coach.  Of course, there were some bumps along the way but with this group and a good staff (Stan Moore and Grant Slater) we made big strides in those first couple of years. To this day, that first group of seniors holds a special place in my heart and we remain good friends.”

Vaughan’s journey as head coach has been full of memorable moments and many players he has helped coach and grow. In 1995, the team beat a University of Vermont team that boasted future NHL stars Martin St. Louis and Tim Thomas at Starr Rink to advance to the ECAC Final Four. Several of Vaughan’s players have gone on to play in the NHL, including Andy McDonald ‘00, who won a Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks in 2006. One special moment for Vaughan was when McDonald brought the cup back to Hamilton to celebrate with his former coach and the Colgate community.

“For him to agree to spend part of his day with the Cup in Hamilton and at Colgate meant so much to me and all of us here in this community. The support from Colgate and VP for Advancement Murray Decock ‘81 and Chase Carey ‘76 to get Andy and the Cup to Colgate for four hours and then back to Andy’s hometown of Strathroy, Ontario was simply amazing. That does not happen in most college communities but it happens at Colgate.”

For Vaughan, the most powerful and meaningful moments as a coach have come off the ice. Through his time as head coach, Vaughan has experienced both joy and pain in leading the team and seeing both coaches and players coming together to form a family.

“We have had lots of laughs and of course a few tears. We after all are a family. So we share in all the good and not so good times. I have had to share news to guys in the locker room that a teammate has cancer. I have had to tell a player his grandfather passed away. I have gently encouraged a player to go home because I knew his father was dying even though all he wanted was to be with his teammates. I have had to share the news to a player that because of injury his career was over. It’s what families do, and I love the Colgate Hockey family.”

Now, Vaughan is preparing for a season unlike any other — one full of new guidelines, restrictions and uncertainty due to the pandemic. Still, Vaughan is confident in his team and how things have been going so far.

“The attitude and genuine enthusiasm by the guys has given the coaching staff a jolt of energy. It’s been really great. We are hopeful that we can play some kind of competitive ECAC schedule and we are working toward that goal.”

Looking back on his coaching experience, the one thing that always makes the job memorable for Vaughan is the growth of his players. It is this that will continue to motivate him as he nears his thirtieth season in charge.

“To watch a player grow and mature as a person and student-athlete throughout their four years at Colgate is without question the best part of my job. It is amazing to see the transformation from a first-year to a senior and to see that growth daily and to know that you played a part, however small it might be, in that transformation is so rewarding. I am so lucky to have a job that allows me to interact and work with some of the brightest and most talented student-athletes in the world. They challenge me every day and I love that about them.”