North Allegheny hockey coach has overwhelming passion for the game
Jim Black couldn't be reached until after 11 p.m.
Black of Wexford was officiating a dek hockey game with his son at the facility he owns on Mt. Nebo Road.
Being busy and up so late isn't atypical for Black.
“You don't have to worry about me — I don't sleep,” Black said with a chuckle that failed to hide that he wasn't really joking. “I'm up after midnight, and again by 5 a.m.”
That's not unusual in the life of a hockey coach. But Black, who led North Allegheny to the state high school hockey Class AAA championship last month, is more than the Tigers' coach when it comes to hockey.
He coaches amateur boys' teams, amateur girls' teams, has been an assistant on local travel teams and serves as a director of youth hockey for the ice and dek versions of the sports at different venues — in addition to owning a facility.
“I was very fortunate, my dad had (Penguins) season tickets right next to the Pens' bench,” said Black, 46. “He'd take my brother and I to games, and we sat next to Les Binkley and all the old-time Pens.
“I went to games from a very young age with him, and he got involved in refereeing and coaching and became somebody who had a passion and love for the game and wanted to learn about it. He got my brother and I into it.”
Black has made hockey a big part of his life. His three children play it, often with him coaching them.
His two youngest, 8 and 15, are in the North Pittsburgh Wildcats Youth Hockey Association girls' hockey development program that Black administers at BladeRunners Warrendale.
His oldest child, Cody, was on the North Allegheny team that won the Pennsylvania Cup Class AAA championship for the second time in seven seasons this year.
It was the third state championship for Black as a head coach (he guided Pine-Richland to the 2006 Class AA title) and fourth in which he's been on the staff (he was an assistant during Beaver's run to a Class A championship in 1990).
Led by talented players such as Joe Griffin, Connor Cash, Charles Johnson, Matt Fantaski, Bradford Thornburgh and Black's son, North Allegheny went out to a fast start and fulfilled its role of preseason Penguins Cup favorite by winning the title.
The 6-2 win against Philadelphia's La Salle College High School in the state championship game was gratifying, Black said.
“This year, with this group we had, I think there was more pressure because everybody thought I had the team to beat and should have won the Penguins Cup,” Black said. “But when we went out east, I don't know anyone who gave us a chance — and from the coaching side. I love the challenge of going up against one of the better coaches and one of the better teams.”
Black recalled spending an extra hour in the bus with his players, breaking down tape of La Salle's most recent games, catching any edge they could in terms of faceoff tendencies or even the opponents' personnel.
“I thought that made a huge difference,” Black said. “That's the advantage we had. I love breaking down the film. ... For instance, they had six right-handed defensemen. I knew if our guys were breaking out of the zone, we'd break out on the right-wing side with a hard wrap because as a defenseman, that's hard keeping puck in on the off side there.”
Black played hockey at North Catholic, a Michigan prep school and in college, but he no longer plays the game. He joked how the most recent time he suited up, he broke some ribs and injured his shoulder, angering his wife.
So Black relies on coaching and teaching to make his impact on hockey.
Though Cody is set to graduate, Black will stay on as North Allegheny coach's next season. He is an assistant on the South Hills Amateur Hockey Association travel team in addition to being involved with North Pittsburgh and the Little Penguins youth hockey development.
Then there's DekStar, a facility he built with partners 23 years ago and has come back to running.
“I enjoy hockey so much, be it coaching or being involved with my daughters,” Black said.
Chris Adamski is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.