When the St. Thomas men's hockey team begins play as a Division I program in the 2021-22 season, it will be doing so with a new coach.

Jeff "Duke'' Boeser announced Monday that he's retiring after the 2020-21 season, which will be his 11th in charge of the Tommies.

"I am so blessed,'' Boeser said. "I've been involved with hockey my whole life. How many people can say they've been able to do the thing they love and do it their whole life?''

Boeser, who has been at St. Thomas since 1971 as a player, assistant coach and head coach, has led the Tommies to a 154-80-31 record, six MIAC regular-season championships and three NCAA tournament appearances.

An assistant under Tommies coach Terry Skrypek for 23 years, Boeser took his mentor's advice about when to retire.

"When he decided it was time for him to retire, he said, 'Duke, you'll know,' '' Boeser said. "I feel good about it. It's the right time. I never was that guy who had to be a D-I coach to feel like I've done everything. … I'm 67 years old. It's time to pass it on to a younger guy.''

St. Thomas athletic director Phil Esten praised Boeser, a standout player for the Tommies who was part of the 1976 U.S. Olympic team.

"He certainly been part of the fabric of this hockey program for the better part of five decades,'' Esten said. "… More important to me, the impact that he's had goes beyond winning hockey games. He really cares about his players beyond the ice.''

St. Thomas, which begins play in the new Central Collegiate Hockey Association in the 2021-22 season, will conduct a national search for Boeser's successor. Esten believes the job will be coveted.

"St. Thomas is in one of the hottest beds if not the hotbed of hockey recruiting territory in the country,'' Esten said. "Recruiting to an institution like St. Thomas, where we offer a lot on the academic side and have a history to committing to excellence on the athletic side, it could be a very attractive job.''

Esten doesn't plan to name a new coach until after the 2020-21 season. His goal is to hire somebody "who's demonstrated success at the Division I level,'' among other criteria. He pointed to his time at Penn State as deputy athletic director from 2014-18, when the Nittany Lions progressed quickly from Division I newcomer to an NCAA tournament team.

"There's a spectrum of things we'll look at,'' he said. "Whether it's somebody who has some experience building a program, and I was a little bit a part of that at Penn State. [Coach] Guy Gadowsky has done a phenomenal job of building a successful program, and perhaps there's a little blueprint.''