Diane Dillon has been around the game of hockey ever since she was a young girl. Her father was a coach and her family had season tickets for the Buffalo Sabres, so hockey was in her blood. From a young age, she knew she wanted hockey to be a big part of her life. Dillon dreamed about one day becoming a coach, like her father before her.
“I’m the daughter of a coach and it started way back then,” Dillon said. “When I was a little kid, my dad was coaching little league football, baseball, hockey; you name it, he coached it. I was fortunate enough to see the game from a coach’s stand point.”
Dillon learned how to skate at a young age by helping her dad’s hockey team shag pucks across the ice. Little did she know, learning how to skate would pave the path for the rest of her life.
As she grew older, Dillon knew she wanted to continue playing hockey. Fortunately, she was blessed with great talent. She joined Cornell’s women’s hockey team, where she starred for four years. She posted incredible statistics and is recognized as one of the most prominent players in Big Red history. She graduated in 1983 with 65 goals, 79 assists and 144 total points. She was team captain for three years and her role as a leader reassured her that she wanted to become a coach one day.
Dillon got her first opportinity to coach in 2001, when she was hired as an assistant at her alma mater. Dillon’s role grew throughout her five years on the Cornell coaching staff. After starting out with the role of simply being involved in practice, she rose to the top of the recruiting department and spearheaded the process.
“I learned more than you could even imagine, so I was very content with where I was because I was learning how to run a college program, how to set up a program and kind of run it like your own business,” Dillon said. “That proved very beneficial coming here to start the program.”
Dillon was extremely happy with her role at Cornell, but in 2006, Oswego State came calling with the opportunity of a lifetime. At this time, Oswego State was nationally recognized for their men’s hockey team and had just built a new arena.
“They actually contacted me, so it wasn’t something that I necessarily was looking for, but it was time to either make some moves at Cornell or move on,” Dillon said. “This was an opportunity for me to be a head coach. It felt right and the opportunity to actually start a program from scratch is absolutely incredible and very rare. As a head coach; you don’t inherit anyone else’s stuff or players you’re not familiar with. Everything is new, and you’re responsible for all of it, which is a little daunting, but at the same time, you’re laying the groundwork for what this program is going to be about, which is a great opportunity that I absolutely jumped at.”
Dillon knew this was an extremely sought after position and was going to do everything in her power to take advantage of this rare opportunity. However, she had to endure a particularly difficult interview process.
“I was brought in for the interview and spent the entire day here; it was draining,”
Dillon said. “I met with Athletic Director Tim Hale and interviewed with several of the coaches as well as the search committee. I met with coach Gosek, who was part of that committee, so they really grilled me on what my philosophy was and how I would approach this situation.”
Dillon’s detailed plans stood out above the rest, and she was hired as the head coach on March 8, 2006. Knowing that the puck was going to drop in five months, Dillon had to scramble to bring recruits to Oswego State. This was a daunting task due to the fact that recruiting season was nearly over at this point, so there were not too many options to choose from.
Her first year as coach was by no means easy. She was the lone member of the coaching staff, and had an astonishingly young team that consisted of 15 underclassmen, 12 of which were freshmen. Dillon had to focus on getting her players adjusted to college life, in addition to teaching them a new system.
“We had freshmen in key roles, when normally they would have a year or two to get adjusted to the systems and become comfortable in college, find out what dorm life is all about and how to handle yourself, even learn how to do laundry,” Dillon said. “They were thrown right into the fire.”
Dillon led the team to a respectable 7-12-3 record in its inaugural season. Her incredible performance did not go unrecognized, as she was named ECAC Women’s West Coach of The Year. This was only the beginning for Dillon. She has a career 54-85-11 record, but the program has drastically improved in recent years. Last season, Dillon guided the Lakers to a number four playoff seed, a program best. The Lakers finished 11-14-2, but went a program best 8-8-2 in conference play. They went on to win the program’s first postseason game by defeating Neumann University.
After last season’s performance, the Lakers enter the 2012-2013 season with high expectations. This year’s squad is reminiscent of the 2006 team, in that the Lakers are relying on freshmen to play key roles. The team has played well so far this season, despite a short bench, and most of their success is a result of the “family” mentality that Dillon has set up.
“Our team is a family and coach Dillon leads this family,” sophomore Bridget Smith says. “We all feel that we can go to her all the time and that she’s there to help. We’re a family here and we know she’s always there to help out.”
Dillon takes pride in the environment she has set for her players and stresses that her players are here as students first, and hockey players second.
“Hockey is only a small part of what we do here,” Dillon said. “Our main goal is to help these young ladies succeed not only in hockey, but also in life.”
As Dillon continues her seventh season as head coach at Oswego State, she knows that she is living her dream, which is something that not too many people can say, and she doesn’t plan on letting go of her dream any time soon.
“I hope to continue to represent Oswego State as a coach. I want to continue to build this program,” Dillon said. “I love the town of Oswego; the town has embraced me and the program ever since I got here. This is home and I hope to be here for many, many years to come.”