ORONO, Maine — Jim Montgomery is excited about landing the University of Denver hockey coaching job.
But the former University of Maine All-American, who captained the 1992-93 Black Bear team to the school’s first NCAA championship and has had his No. 19 jersey retired, said he will also be keeping an eye on the Maine job and hoping they pick the right man to return the program to prominence.
Maine has qualified for the NCAA Tournament just once in the past six years after a string of nine straight NCAA appearances and that cost Tim Whitehead his job after 12 seasons behind the Maine bench.
“I think the Maine hockey alums and the Friends of Maine Hockey have a great idea of the type of coach and the type of personality they need,” said Montgomery. “The search committee has to understand that they not only need an elite coach, they need a coach who will engage the campus, the community and the state.”
“The new coach has to bring back the energy, excitement and emotion necessary to be successful at the national level. With the right person, I believe you can win at Maine,” he added.
One possible replacement for Whitehead is the man Montgomery replaced, George Gwozdecky.
Gwozdecky posted a 443-267-64 record at Denver and is the only coach who has won at least 20 games in each of the last 12 seasons.
But his Denver teams have lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in five of the last six seasons and his lengthy contract negotiations with the school were reportedly stalled. So he was released with one year left on his 12-year contract.
Including his five seasons as the head coach at Miami, the 59-year-old Gwozdecky has a career record of 593-391-85. He has said he wants to coach and that he is interested in the Maine job.
“George is one of the best candidates out there for any coaching job,” said Montgomery, who was interested in the Maine job. “He should clearly be on the list of candidates at Maine. He is an elite coach.”
Montgomery also said they should consider recently fired Ohio State coach Mark Osiecki.
Osiecki, also a former Wisconsin assistant, went 45-50-16 in his three seasons at OSU.
“He took over an Ohio State program that was down and got them to the CCHA semifinals this past season with only two years of recruiting,” said Montgomery.
Montgomery said the new coach will have to improve the recruiting.
“They’ll have to come up a level,” said Montgomery.
In addition to Maine and Ohio State, the other Division I coaching jobs that are vacant are Alaska-Anchorage and Connecticut. UConn will join Hockey East in two seasons.
He said he liked the fact former Maine captain Peter Metcalf is a member of the search committee but was disappointed that former longtime Maine assistant and recruiting coordinator Grant Standbrook wasn’t chosen to the committee.
“Nobody understands the challenges — the pros and cons — of Maine hockey like Grant. He knows how to sell the program,” said Montgomery, who will conclude his third and final season as the head coach/general manager of the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the United States (Junior A-amateur) Hockey League at the end of the playoffs.
Standbrook is a consultant with the Fighting Saints and Montgomery said don’t be surprised if Standbrook is involved with his team at Denver.
Montgomery’s Pioneers will begin play in the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference next season with Colorado College, Miami, Minnesota-Duluth, Nebraska-Omaha, North Dakota, St. Cloud State and Western Michigan. Those schools have combined for 17 NCAA Division I titles.
“It’s going to be a great league. It’s going to be very competitive every night,” said Montgomery. “It’s going to be a great challenge but that’s what you want.”
“I’m very excited. It’s about working with good people at a great institution with a vision. They know where they want the men’s hockey program to go [national championship] and that’s exactly what I want to be a part of,” said Montgomery, who has been elected to the University of Maine’s Sports Hall of Fame and is the school’s all-time leading scorer (301 points).
Blair not UAA finalist
Former Maine defenseman and assistant coach Campbell Blair, who has applied for the Maine job, was not one of four finalists for the Alaska-Anchorage job.
Blair spent the past seven seasons as the associate head coach at UAA under head coach Dave Shyiak, who was recently fired.
Blair, who was an assistant for five years at Maine, had applied for the UAA job.
Chris Brown, Michael Corbett, Gary Heenan and Damon Whitten were named the finalists at UAA.