Each step of the way, Mark Digby has learned from the coaches around him.
Whether it was the Fulton native’s first hockey coaching gig while he completed his degree at Brockport, when he moved closer to home to take on an assistant role with Oswego State a decade ago, or when he transitioned to being an associate head coach for the women’s program last year, Digby has found ways to better himself as a bench boss.
After more than a decade of developing under others, Digby believes now is the right time for him to take over the Lakers’ women’s program as its interim head coach.
“The coaches that you work with, the coaches you coach against, I think you can always pick something up from every situation you’re in or every coach you get a chance to talk to,” Digby said. “The more you can pick up, the more you can help develop your own style. You can’t be somebody else. I can’t be Ed Gosek. I can’t be Brian Dickinson or Diane Dillon. I can just be myself. I think over the last whatever it’s been — 15 years — I’ve tried to soak up as much as I could so when this opportunity came around, I would be prepared.”
The Oswego State women’s team is coming off a 16-7-4 record, the most wins for the program in a single season since the 2016-17 campaign. The Lakers competed in their second NEWHL championship game, but came up short against nationally-ranked Plattsburgh in the finals.
Diane Dillon decided to step away from the program after 14 years behind the bench, giving Digby his first shot at the head coaching gig.
“It’s an exciting thing for us to have the opportunity to keep things moving forward in the direction we got started in this year,” Digby said. “Having a year under my belt allows for the players to enter this season with a better understanding of me, my style, and my personality and for me to have a better understanding of them, their styles, and their personalities.”
Digby credited Dillon with helping him learn some of the organizational duties required to be a head coach. That work off the ice makes it easier to focus on hockey once the puck drops.
“The more of that stuff you can stay on top of and stay ahead of makes it easier for once you get into the season. Your time is then focused on hockey and not on other things,” Digby said. “The more time you can spend focused on hockey during the season, the players see that and the players love that. They want time with their coaches as coaches.”
Digby, who graduated from G. Ray Bodley High School in 2001, has been coaching since he finished his college playing career with Brockport in 2005.
Digby was an assistant to Brockport head coach Brian Dickinson, who he says showed him early on the importance of building relationships.
Digby jumped at the opportunity to come closer to home to join Ed Gosek’s staff in Oswego in 2010. With the Lakers’ men’s hockey team, Digby coached in six NCAA tournaments, two Frozen Fours, and two national championship games.
“It was an entirely different experience than what I was used to. … There’s a deeper responsibility to make sure you’re putting a good product on the ice and there’s that extra drive you get from the community support and everything else,” Digby said. “That was the main attraction in coming here.”
After his transition to the women’s program last year, Digby is hoping to hit the ground running and continue the progress he saw throughout last season. As an associate head coach, he already implemented his system, ran practices and got a head start in recruiting two classes — the fall of 2020 and 2021 — which has come in handy since the coronavirus pandemic shut down many recruiting events this spring and summer.
“From our standpoint, one of the things we wanted to try to do with recruiting was get ahead,” Digby said. “We didn’t want to be in the spot like we were last year, where I was just getting started over the summer. At that point, for the high-end programs, they’re starting to wrap things up and get commitments and complete their recruiting class.”
Digby has had more time to connect with his players and their families since rinks have been shut down. Long conversations often include more about life than hockey, as he looks to find the right people to fit into the culture he’s establishing with the Lakers.
After years coaching under someone else, Digby believes he’s ready to assume the role as the team’s head coach.
“I know 100 percent that I’m ready. The players are excited and I’m excited,” Digby said. “I think we’re looking forward to getting back on the ice this fall and building on what we started last year.”