Longtime Exeter High School Jim Tufts has fond memories of his early days coaching high school hockey in New Hampshire in the late 1970s, and of looking up to established coaches like Dick Ryerson (’06 Inductee) of Concord, Hubie McDonough Jr. (’04 Inductee) of Manchester Memorial, Albie Brodeur (’03 Inductee) of Berlin and the late Bud Luckern (’07 Inductee) of Bishop Brady.
Now, years later, looking back, he can appreciate those moments even more. “I kind of feel like the bridge to those outstanding men,” said Tufts. “As a 25-year-old, coaching with those guys, I just soaked it up any way I could. Now I’m at the other end of it.”
No other high school coach in state history has won as many games as Tufts, who played at Phillips Exeter Academy in his younger days but who focused his athletic energies on soccer during four years at the University of New Hampshire.
In 35 years coaching at Exeter High School, Tufts has won 444 games, in addition to a Division I championship in 1982-83 and two more titles in Division 2, in 2000-01 and 2001-02.
Since Exeter rejoined Division I prior to the 2002-03 season, it had never finished outside the top eight during the regular season until last year. Four times in that span it reached the semifinals, and in 2010 it advanced to the championship game, where it lost 1-0 to Concord.
In 2009, Tufts became the first New Hampshire coach to reach 400 wins. His teams have reached the semifinals 11 times and championship games five times.
As a player, Tufts played two years of varsity for George Crowe at Phillips Exeter Academy before moving on to UNH and playing three years of varsity soccer. He was also skating for the senior amateur Amesbury (MA.) Maple Leafs and coaching in the Exeter Youth Hockey program. One of the first teams he coached was the Squirts Travel team, which included Peter Maher, another of this year’s inductees.
The next year he coached the Bantam Travel team. Exeter was led by Dana Barbin (’11 inductee) who would eventually go on to become the head coach at Phillips Exeter Academy. For the past 20 years, Tufts and Barbin have held the same coaching position in town, Barbin at the prep ranks, Tufts in the public ranks.
After graduating from UNH, Tufts spent the next two years as an assistant coach at Winnacunnet High School in nearby Hampton before moving over to Exeter for good.
Another of Tufts’ passions is the Learn To Play Hockey Program that he has run since its inception in 1983. Established by the Jim Houston Committee and originally run through the Exeter Recreation Department, it is now a staple at The Rinks at Exeter and that program has introduced hundreds of youngsters to the joy of ice hockey.
He has coached a handful of players who went on to Division I, most recently center Jon Higgins, who played at the University of Vermont from 2006-10. Several others went on to careers at Division III colleges.
Tufts career record is 444-322-23 which ranks first in all-time wins. He said he has no plans to rest on what he’s already accomplished. “I don’t feel that way; it’s so much fun,” said Tufts, who’s also the longtime boys soccer coach at Exeter. “It’s great to compete with the guys. I don’t want to stop.”