Prep hockey: Negaunee reaches out to Arizona for new hockey coach

NEGAUNEE – H-e-e-e’s b-a-c-k.

Longtime area youth hockey coach Darrell Sleeman – now living in Sun City, Ariz. – has been hired as head coach of the Negaunee High School hockey team.

NHS athletic director Andrew Brunette said Sleeman was hired Monday to replace Eric Hill. The Miners went 4-21 last season after going 3-20-1 in 2011-12.

“I’m excited about it,” Sleeman said Thursday in a telephone interview. “Hockey is my golf, bowling or pool. I just love the game.

“I’ve always liked a challenge. The kids up there are great athletes and I’ll do everything I can to prepare them.”

Sleeman, 64, has coached at all levels of youth hockey from Mite to Junior B in a career than has spanned nearly 45 years, a majority of them in Marquette County.

Last season, he coached a PeeWee B team in Denver, and in 2010-11, came back to Marquette to serve as head coach of the American Legion Bantam AA squad.

Sleeman said if he hadn’t attended a wedding last month in Marquette, he might not have known about the NHS opening.

“I was told then that Negaunee was having trouble finding a head coach. I sent a letter there saying I’d love to coach their team,” he said.

“I said I didn’t want to take away a younger person’s chance to coach, that I’d even work with that coach to help out.”

Brunette said Thursday school officials decided Sleeman was a “good fit for us.”

“He has a lot of coaching experience with a diverse hockey background,” Brunette said. “Everyone I’ve talked to about Darrell has had good things to say about him.

“We’re pretty excited (to hire him).”

Sleeman, a 1966 Marquette Senior High School and 1980 Northern Michigan University graduate, began playing house league hockey in Marquette at age 7.

Years later, he saw action with the Marquette Sentinels and Marquette Iron Rangers before concentrating on coaching.

Sleeman coached the 1984 Marquette Electricians to a Tier II national title, and in 1996, helped then-coach Jon Nebel guide the Legion squad to a national crown.

“We’ll be disciplined in our defensive zone,” he said of his coaching plans for the Miners. “We’ll make good choices there.

“I’ll give the kids a lot more freedom in the offensive zone.”

Retired from the National Guard since 2005, Sleeman added he doesn’t yell as much as he used to while coaching.

“I respect the players and want them to respect me, too,” he said.

He plans to come back to the area for a Sept. 18 meeting with the Miners players and their parents. Practice begins Nov. 4, with Negaunee’s first game later that month.

He plans to begin looking for a “studio apartment” in which to live while he coaches here.

“My wife (Bobbi) doesn’t jump up and down when I leave, but she understands what I like to do,” Sleeman said. “I told her I still can skate for practices and when I can’t, I’ll hang it up.”

Craig Remsburg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 251.