Chris Bala ’97 has been appointed The Hill School’s new varsity boys’ ice hockey coach, announced Director of Athletics Seth Eilberg. The team’s assistant coach for the past five seasons, Bala will replace Matt Mulhern, head coach since 2004, who has accepted a position as the Head of Admission at the Canterbury School, his alma mater
“After an outstanding hockey career at Hill, Harvard, and in the pros, Chris knows what it takes for our hockey players to be successful both on and off the ice,” said Eilberg. “He has played a major role in the program since his return to The Hill, and we are very excited to have him as our new head coach. As a former Hill hockey player, he is proud of our program’s past success and enthusiastic about continuing its legacy as a competitive New England program.”
Bala spent two years at The Hill as a student, arriving in the fall of 1995. He was a prolific scorer during his two years on the varsity hockey team and served as team captain in 1996-97. His leadership as a Hill student extended beyond the rink, as he also was the president of the sixth form. He then matriculated at Harvard, where he was a four-year member of the Crimson Men’s Hockey team. The Ottawa Senators drafted Bala in the second round of the 1998 NHL draft following his freshman season at Harvard; however, Bala chose to remain in school for his final three years.
Immediately following his graduation from Harvard, Bala embarked on a six-year professional career, beginning with the Grand Rapids Griffins in the American Hockey League, a NHL feeder-league. During his rookie season in 2001-02, Bala represented the Griffins in the AHL All-Star game and earned a call-up to the NHL, playing six games for the Senators. He spent the next three seasons in the AHL playing for the Binghampton Senators, Houston Aeros and the Hershey Bears. Bala joined the Reading Royals of the East Coast Hockey League in 2005 for his final two seasons before retiring at the conclusion of the 2006-07 season.
Upon his retirement from playing, Bala returned to The Hill in the fall of 2007 as an associate director of admission. He joined the varsity boys’ hockey team as an assistant coach in 2008-09. Bala credits his time working with Mulhern throughout the past five seasons as an invaluable experience that has prepared him to be the team’s next head coach.
“I am extremely proud and excited to take over the boys' hockey program at Hill,” Bala said. “I cherished my time here as a player, and having the opportunity to return and be a part of the coaching staff for the past five years has been tremendously rewarding. I am grateful to have had the chance to work with - and learn from - a close friend in Matt Mulhern. I feel confident that we are in a terrific situation to build on the recent momentum that’s been created within the program, and I look forward to the challenge of taking this program to even greater heights.”
The 2013-14 Hill boys’ hockey season will not be Bala’s first experience as a head coach, however. During the summers of 2011 and 2012, he was a member of the USA Hockey Mid-Atlantic District coaching staff, serving as head coach of the District’s Select-15 Festival team.
As someone who is familiar with the demands of the boarding school student-athlete and knows what it takes to succeed at a high level both on-and-off the ice, Bala hopes to put his players in the best possible situation to achieve success.
“I want to create a program that attracts top tier student-athletes from across the country, while maximizing their potential and providing the best opportunity for them to further their careers at the collegiate level,” Bala said. “It will be important to not only continue setting high expectations both in the classroom and on the ice, but to also create a culture within our program that values intangibles like character, work ethic, commitment, and sportsmanship. I want to push our players to thrive at an individual level, but to do so while working within a team-first structure.”