A self-described rink rat of Appleton Arena, Paul Flanagan ’80, P’13 was born and raised in Canton, New York. Growing up in the North Country, attending every Skating Saints game he could, Flanagan, like many others, dreamt of one day donning the Scarlet and Brown and playing in front of the Appleton faithful.
“Back then, like it is now, the program was so accessible. I spent hours at the rink, getting to games early, climbing through bathrooms windows or sneaking in the backdoor,” Flanagan said “I’m sure I was chased out by the rink guys from time to time.”
Eventually, Flanagan could arrive early at Appleton and rest easy. Not only did his dream come true, it lasted for more than 20 years. After playing two seasons at Canton College, Flanagan enrolled at St. Lawrence, graduating in 1980 and serving as captain during his senior year, despite injury issues during his career with the Saints.
After graduating, Flanagan spent time working out west before returning to teach at Canton High School, where he also coached hockey for six years. It was at the end of this sixth season that Flanagan was approached by Joe Marsh, who offered him a job as an assistant coach with the Saints, fresh off a run to the National Championship game.
Though he admits he hadn’t previously considered applying for coaching positions in NCAA hockey, the opportunity was too good to pass up, and ultimately marked a turning point in his career.
“I initially took the job, at least in part, to get my masters paid for, and while I eventually got it, I realized pretty quickly that I wasn’t going back to teaching. This is what I wanted to do.”
Flanagan spent 11 seasons on the bench as an assistant to Joe Marsh, winning a pair of ECAC tournament championships, and coaching players like Greg Carvel and Chris Wells, whom he had also coached while they played at Canton High School.
After the 1998-1999 season, another opportunity presented itself to Flanagan; the chance to take over as head coach of the relatively new St. Lawrence women’s hockey program. In his first year, the Saints posted a strong mark of 18-15-1, before exploding in year two for 24 wins, advancing to the inaugural women’s Frozen Four and finishing runner-up in the National Championship game. That 2000-2001 women’s hockey team was inducted into the St. Lawrence Athletic Hall of Fame in 2017.
Flanagan guided the Saints to five straight NCAA tournaments from 2004-2008, including four straight Frozen Fours from 2004-2007. After posting 18 wins in his inaugural season, the Saints never dipped below 22 wins for the remainder of his time behind the bench, peaking with an unbelievable 31 wins in 2005-2006.
Flanagan finished his time with St. Lawrence Women’s Hockey with a record of 230-83-24, and including his time with the men’s program as an assistant, St. Lawrence racked up 419 wins with Flanagan behind the bench in some capacity.
After the 2007-2008 season, Flanagan departed St. Lawrence to become head coach of the new women’s program at Syracuse University, where he still coaches today. The Orange quickly became competitive under Flanagan, posting 18 wins in year two, and have consistently remained competitive in a CHA conference that gets stronger each year. In his 10 years with the Orange, they have qualified for the CHA tournament semifinals eight times, and have appeared in six conference tournament title games.
Flanagan is the seventh-winningest coach of all time in NCAA women’s hockey, and the fifth winningest-coach in Division I women’s hockey history with a career record of 380-246-61. He should easily pass former University of Minnesota-Duluth head coach Shannon Miller (383 career wins) this year.
Flanagan’s ties to St. Lawrence go beyond his own personal experience. His daughter Shannon is a 2013 graduate of St. Lawrence, and all Saints fans will remember the contributions of his nephews Sean ’10, M’11 and Kyle ’13. Sean played four years for the Saints from 2006-2011, wearing the “A” his senior year, while Kyle was a two-year captain, Hobey Baker nominee and one of the top scorers for the Saints during his four seasons.
Flanagan resides in Dewitt, New York with his wife Sharon, and his children Shannon, Brendan, and Connor.