ORONO, Maine — Three players who played for him when he was an assistant coach at the University of Maine in the early 1990s say the University of Maine made a wise decision in offering Dennis “Red” Gendron the men’s hockey coaching job.
If he accepts the job, the 55-year-old Gendron will replace Tim Whitehead, who was fired after 12 years behind the bench. Gendron’s contract is expected to be finalized Monday, with a press conference introducing the new coach Tuesday at UMaine’s Alfond Arena.
Whitehead had one year left on his $195,000-per-year contract. The university will pay Whitehead for his final year out of the privately-financed president’s discretionary fund.
Gendron has an impressive resume that includes three seasons as an assistant coach at Maine, culminating in the 1992-93 NCAA championship; 11 seasons in the New Jersey Devils organization as an assistant coach at the NHL and AHL level; one and a half seasons as the head coach for Albany (AHL); one year as the head coach of the Indiana Ice in the United States Hockey League (Junior A-amateur); six seasons as an assistant at UMass and two as an assistant at Yale.
The Devils won three Stanley Cups during Gendron’s time with them, and Yale won its first NCAA championship this past season.
“He has a very intelligent hockey mind. He’s a very good communicator and teacher and he is a person with a lot of integrity,” said Jim Montgomery, who captained the 1992-93 team and recently took the head coaching position at Denver. “He won at Maine, he won at Yale. Obviously he has been a part of some great staffs that have accomplished great things.
“He completely understands what Maine hockey was and is and what he needs to do to get them back into the national tournament,” said Montgomery, referring to the fact Maine has made just one NCAA Tournament appearance over the past six seasons after a string of nine consecutive berths.
“It’s a great decision. It’s exciting news,” said former Bear winger and current Messalonskee High of Oakland head coach Mike Latendresse. “The university needed to go out and find somebody who knew the program, and Red was one of the first coaches to come to my mind.
“He’s a great coach who knows the game and the program very well,” added Latendresse.
Latendresse said Gendron is one of the primary reasons he came to Maine because Gendron is bilingual.
Latendresse is from Montreal and said his parents spoke very little English.
“Right from the start, we connected really well because he spoke French,” said Latendresse. “It was a key in my decision in coming to Maine, and he made things easier for me because of that, especially my first year.
“And that will also help him with recruiting. Having a head coach who speaks French is extremely important to [French-speaking] players and their families. It makes them feel a lot more comfortable and gives them peace of mind,” said Latendresse.
Former Maine goalie and Orono High hockey coach Greg Hirsch was also enthusiastic about the news, saying Gendron has “been successful at every level. He’s a winner.
“He has a ton of experience. He has gained such a wealth of experience since leaving Maine at almost every level. He has a ton of contacts,” said Hirsch.
Hirsch also said that Gendron’s 11 years in the Devils organization will be beneficial in recruiting because recruits will be aware of the fact “Red knows that it takes to get to the next level” and he can help get them there.
Hirsch noted that Gendron was a “forerunner in breaking down video and statistics” and added that he will be demanding of his players and will “hold them accountable” for their performances.
“This is the first step in getting the program going in the right direction,” said Hirsch.
Former UMass Lowell head coach and current Colby College coach Blaise MacDonald, who replaced Gendron as an assistant at UMass, said Gendron possesses “tremendous leadership skills.
“He is really able to connect with people and bring them together. He will help the group create a shared vision, and he will empower everybody within that group to reach that goal. Most importantly, he holds people very accountable if they don’t work toward that goal,” added MacDonald.
“He’s a program builder. He will galvanize everybody around him quickly,” said MacDonald.
Gendron’s ability to communicate and “really display his passion for Maine hockey will attract players very quickly” said MacDonald, who expects Gendron to energize the program and help win back the 1,700 season-ticket holders UMaine has lost over the past five seasons.
“He’s a promoter and they will play an exciting brand of hockey which will be fan friendly,” said MacDonald.
MacDonald said Gendron will put together a “very good staff” but warned that the Alfond Arena faithful may have to be patient “because nobody in Hockey East is getting worse. Everybody is getting better.
“But within the next three or four years, Maine will sustain a high level of excellence,” predicted MacDonald.
Donald Cahoon was the head coach at UMass when Gendron was an assistant and said he is elated for Gendron.
“It is so well-deserved. He will do great things there if he takes the job,” said Cahoon.
He concurred that Gendron will insist on players taking responsibility for their actions and also called him “a great teacher and a compassionate guy.
“He is a an excellent judge of talent and good communicator. He loves to come across as an average Joe but he is way above that, intellectually. He’s a very bright guy,” said Cahoon.
Cahoon also says Gendron’s engaging personality enables him to “make an impact on all of his student-athletes.”
“He’s a real good guy and real good hockey guy, said Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy. “He has paid his dues. It will be nice to get him back in Hockey East.”
Gendron also won four state championships and two coach-of-the-year awards at Bellows Free (Vt.) Academy.