With their second-round pick in the 1998 NHL entry draft, the Ottawa Senators selected forward Chris Bala from Harvard University. Bala, a 1997 Hill School graduate, had just completed an outstanding freshman season in which he was the Crimson’s second-leading scorer. Rather than immediately pursuing a professional career, Bala remained at Harvard for the next three years and began what became a six-year pro career after graduating from Harvard in 2001.
In 2007, Bala returned to his high school alma mater as an Admissions Officer. He joined the Hill boys’ hockey coaching staff in 2008 and served as an assistant for five seasons before taking over as the team’s head coach for the 2013-2014 season, beginning a successful seven-year tenure in which he amassed a 108-78-11 record and led Hill to three Mid-Atlantic Hockey League championships. During the summer of 2020, Bala indicated to School leadership that he hoped to step aside from the head coaching role following the 2020-2021 school year, allowing ample time for a thorough search for his replacement.
Bala intends to remain involved in the program.
“I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to serve as head boys hockey coach at The Hill School,” Bala said. “It was fulfilling to lead a program that contributed so positively to my experience at Hill, and the on-ice career that would follow. My time in this program was particularly special, not because of the results or for games won, but because of the people I played for and played with. I sincerely hope the same will be true for the players who’ve skated in this program the past seven years.”
As one coach with Harvard hockey connections steps out of Hill’s head boys’ coaching role, a new one will step in. On October 15, Hill School Director of Athletics Seth Eilberg announced the appointment of Sean O’Brien as Hill’s next head boys’ hockey coach. O’Brien has been the Director of Hockey Operations at Harvard since 2017.
“I am extremely humbled and honored to join The Hill School faculty as the next Head Boys’ Hockey Coach,” O’Brien said. “This is a terrific opportunity for me and for my entire family. I look forward to continuing on the tradition and history of the hockey program, while working closely with everyone on campus to be successful. In addition, my family is very excited to be joining the Hill community and making the beautiful campus our home.”
A Massachusetts native, O’Brien attended New England College in Henniker, N.H. where he was a member of the Pilgrims’ Men’s Hockey team, serving as team captain during his senior year. He spent one year playing professional hockey in Germany before returning to the United States in 1999 as a scout for the Florida Panthers. O’Brien was an NHL scout for four years and then returned to New England as a co-founder of the Portland Jr. Pirates hockey club, a Tier III Junior A program. From 2003 until 2010, O’Brien served as a coach and General Manager in the organization. He managed the organization’s day-to-day operations including recruiting, video analysis, player development, and college placement – more than 100 players moved on to play collegiate hockey during O’Brien’s tenure with the Jr. Pirates.
In 2011, O’Brien became the Vice President of Legacy Global Sports, LLC and Director of the Selects Academy hockey program. As one of three leaders on the company’s executive team, O’Brien helped oversee the launch of the Selects Academy boys’ program in South Kent, Conn. and of a girls’ program in Rochester, N.Y. Serving as the GM of the boys’ program, O’Brien scouted and recruited players from across North America to join the team, which has become one of the top AAA boys’ hockey clubs in the country in the U16 and U18 age groups. He also managed the Legacy Global Sports NHL Player Agency Division; 10 Selects Academy players who graduated between 2013 and 2018 have been selected in the NHL Draft.
Most recently, O’Brien has served as the Director of Hockey Operations at Harvard for both the Men’s and Women’s program. In this capacity, O’Brien oversees nearly every operational aspect of both programs, including scheduling, travel, budgetary management, facility scheduling, film analysis and opponent scouting, and compliance. He also works closely with Harvard’s Admissions and Financial Aid department and with hockey recruits throughout the admission process, as he is heavily involved in Harvard’s hockey recruiting.
“I am thrilled for the School to name Sean as head coach,” Bala said. “He will bring the same experience, energy and perspective to our program that has helped him find success at all levels of hockey, including Harvard, all the while learning how amazing it can be to live and work at The Hill School. I look forward to supporting his transition into our program and staying involved in the hockey program however I can.”
O’Brien will conclude the 2020-2021 season at Harvard before transitioning to Hill.