June 14, 2017

After 21-Year Tenure Guiding PU Women’s Hockey, Kampersal Finds a New Home at Penn State

ENTERING THE LION’S DEN: Jeff Kampersal makes a point on the bench during his tenure as the head coach of the Princeton University women’s hockey team. After a highly successful 21-season run at the helm of the Tigers, Kampersal is headed to Penn State to take over as the head coach of the Nittany Lions. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

Coming to Princeton University from the Boston area in 1988, Jeff Kampersal quickly found a home in the Garden State.

Joining the men’s hockey team that winter, the 6’2, 200-pound Kampersal emerged as one of the top defensemen in program history, earning both All-ECAC and All-Ivy League honors as a four-year letterwinner and team captain.

In 1996, he took the helm of the Princeton women’s hockey team and proceeded to mold the program into a consistent winner. Over his tenure, Princeton won 327 games, including two NCAA Tournament appearances and two Ivy League titles in 2006 and 2016, with Kampersal being named as a four-time ECAC Hockey Coach of the Year and two-time Ivy League Coach of the Year.

But when opportunity arose to consider taking over the Penn State women’s hockey team, Kampersal realized that he had found a new home and decided to make the move to Happy Valley.

“I had spoken to a couple of people when I was down at a coaching convention and I kind of entertained the idea then but didn’t think too much of it and then I visited Penn State for a day to check it out,” said Kampersal.

“The campus and the town has a good, homey kind of feel. They are genuinely passionate about Penn State. Everyday people were just so pumped up about Penn State, not just the people trying to sell you on it, and that was cool. Then to walk around the rink and see the facilities that they have, it is great. The academics are still really important to Penn State and I philosophically believe in that because of Princeton.”

Kampersal noted that he was influenced by the experience of Guy Gadowsky, the former Princeton men’s hockey head coach who has been guiding the Penn State program since 2011.

“I know Gads from playing hockey with him for a year and when he was a coach here,” said Kampersal, who has a daughter, Keira, and a son, Jack, with wife Eileen. “He loves it there, he really likes the area for his family.”

In reflecting on the decision, Kampersal acknowledged that it was tough to leave his Princeton hockey family.

“It was insanely difficult,” said Kampersal, who is being succeeded by associate head coach Cara Morey. “Today I just got an email from Princeton to go through resigning steps. It is a such a bummer.”

Looking back on his time guiding the Tigers, Kampersal knows it was a group effort.

“I have had amazing coaches to work with, each one of them has helped along the way, no question and made me a better coach,” said Kampersal. “The players are awesome. It was really good to see the alums back.

While the wins, Ivy titles, and NCAA appearances are special to Kampersal, it is the bonds with his players that have left indelible memories.

“The players for sure are the biggest highlights and the memories you go through,” said the affable Kampersal, known for a ready smile that softens his imposing shaved head look.

“I can remember going to a Sheryl Crow concert on campus with the first team I coached to different times on the bus. In Y2K, we were in Munich for New Year’s Eve. There are a million things like that. The hockey is definitely important. I  remember a lot of the games and specific plays but it is more about the relationships; that is the really cool part and and what I will miss the most.”

Kampersal will remember the support he received from the athletic directors he worked under at Princeton, Gary Walters and Mollie Marcoux Samaan.

“Gary hired me back in ’96 and said Plan A didn’t pan out for whatever reason so you are Plan B,” said Kampersal with a chuckle.

“Through his tenure he has pushed me out of my comfort zone and told me things that I didn’t necessary want to hear, but that was good for me and I was appreciative of that. I got my first taste of women’s hockey by watching Molly Marcoux. I would stay after practice and watch her play, she was so good. She went away for a little bit to do her thing at Chelsea Piers, but she came back and that was cool. She has been supportive as well.”

Marcoux Samaan, for her part, credits Kampersal with having a major impact on Princeton women’s hockey.

“Jeff has been the lifeblood of the program for over two decades and leaves behind one of the best women’s hockey programs in the country,” said Marcoux Samaan in a statement on the Princeton sports website.

“Throughout his tenure, he has been a committed advocate for his student-athletes, for Princeton Athletics and for the University and has helped develop hundreds of young women into first-rate hockey players and, most importantly, first-rate people. We wish him great success at this next stop in his career and know that he’ll stay forever connected to Princeton hockey.”

Although Penn State is coming off a 9-21-5 season in 2016-17, Kampersal believes there is some first-rate talent on hand.

“They have fine players, I have coached some of the players in camps along the way,” said Kampersal.

“We recruited some of them who did not come to Princeton but went to Penn State so there is some familiarity.”

As he looks to get the Nittany Lions on the winning track, Kampersal sounded some themes that will be familiar to his Princeton players.

“I think the goals are to create an environment where they are really pumped to come to the rink every day to work hard,” said Kampersal.

“I want to start a process there that they can believe in, have them get in shape, be a hard team to play against, and then get better every day.”