Utah State head hockey coach Jon Eccles spends his Wednesday night packing up the team bus for the team’s upcoming road trip. Hours fly by, and he is on the bus headed to Boise.
Eccles doesn’t get paid for his time and dedication, but he’s as committed as any of the coaches who get paid hundreds of thousands to do their job. Before taking on the position, he knew there had to be a reason for him to keep going. His motivation is simply his love for Utah State.
“I love Utah State,” Eccles said. “And I definitely love the sport of hockey.”
Eccles was the son of a coast-guard, so he was no stranger to moving a lot during his childhood. Bouncing around between California and Alaska before spending time in Michigan and eventually settling down in Utah. Hockey was a stable activity for him since living in Michigan after there was a newspaper ad looking for hockey players.
“I understood the game, loved it, and my coach thought ‘oh my goodness this guy is a diamond in the rough,’” Eccles said. But it wasn’t as easy as it seemed. “He put a pair of skates on me and I couldn’t stand up.”
As Eccles’ first season went on, he was able to notch his first assist with a couple games left.
“Starting to be able to skate, I went into the corner, I blindly threw a pass in front of the net, and we scored,” Eccles said. “Everyone came jumping on me.”
It seemed at that point Eccles love for the game was solidified.
“From that point on, that really embedded into me, the love of the game,” Eccles said.
At age 14, Eccles had earned himself a key to the ice rink, where he would skate seven days a week.
“My mom, my dad always knew where I was,” Eccles said. “It all started there, it kept me out of trouble, and I’d play until I couldn’t skate anymore.”
Eccles’ love for hockey would lead him to coaching with Utah State. Eccles joined the Aggie coaching staff in 2003 as an assistant. He spent the next six and a half years helping out as an assistant before the opportunity came to become the head coach, an opportunity he jumped at. Eccles was in-line to replace a head coach who had been worn down from the grind of being a committed coach in a club sport, and he was happy to take it.
In Eccles’ second full season as the head coach, he was able to bring in a transfer from NCAA III, one division below the top level of college hockey. He would be one of Eccles’ most productive players at Utah State: former captain Brian Gibbons. The Utica college transferee was looking for a change and Eccles was able to help him find a home in Logan.
“I got a hold of Jonny and he did everything he could to help get me into USU,” Gibbons said. “Jonny not only gave me an opportunity, but he gave a ton of other guys the same opportunity.”
Gibbons has spent the last couple of seasons playing professionally in Germany since his graduation in 2013. A profession Gibbons gives Eccles credit for.
“The reason I am playing professional hockey is because Johnny got ahold of someone for me and they gave me a chance,” Gibbons said. “Going to Utah State and playing for Jon Eccles changed my hockey career. I couldn’t be more proud and thankful to have played at Utah State under Jonny.”
After garnering 23 total points in his first two years at Utica, Gibbons production skyrocketed after arriving in Logan by achieving 100 total points in his first season with the Aggies. Gibbons would get 80 more during his senior season with Utah State.
Gibbons production in Logan led to professional opportunities overseas. Gibbons played for the EHC Neuwied Bears before joining Hannover Indians at the end of last season. Since then, former Utah State players Mike Trimboli and Rylee Orr have been given the same chance playing professionally with Neuwied.
Eccles has helped instill a belief in his players to achieve their ambitions, but credits his former players that have helped make the transition for Aggies hoping to make it professionally.
“The guys who go over there and make there name for Utah State, more and more teams realize these are good players,” Eccles said. “But it’s really on that player and how he represents himself.”
Freshman goalie Colter Pritchard has enjoyed a promising, early start to his Aggie career under Eccles with two shutouts in his first two games.
Pritchard first met Eccles at the Las Vegas Invitational tournament while he was on a recruiting trip. The impression of Eccles helped make Pritchard’s choice to come play under him at Utah State.
“He’s a very straightforward guy who knows exactly who he wants for his team,” Pritchard said. “He has a lot of credibility and really knows what he’s doing.”
Pritchard joins many other Aggies from Alaska to further extend the line of Alaskans Eccles has brought to Logan. Eccles has enjoyed the success of recruiting good players from the northwest and again, credits his players for helping him find hidden talent.
“We may get one or two players from Alaska and they have friends or they know somebody,” Eccles said, “and that’s been our biggest recruiting tool.”
Since 2009, Eccles has taken Utah State to Nationals to compete for a championship five times of the last eight years. Despite making the tournament many years they are still in pursuit of winning Utah State’s first ACHA II Championship. As of the last game played against the Utah Valley University on Saturday, Nov. 5, Eccles holds a 202-59-12 record.
Eccles laid-back personality makes him a players-coach, and that helps him have a great relationship with his players, giving them the best chance to be successful.