ORONO, Maine —- Dennis “Red” Gendron made it perfectly clear that he is elated to be the new head men’s hockey coach at the University of Maine.
And he said there is absolutely no reason the struggling program can’t return to the glory days when it was competing for Hockey East and NCAA championships.
After making nine straight NCAA Tournament appearances, Maine has qualified for just one over the past six seasons and that cost coach Tim Whitehead his job with one year remaining on his contract.
Gendron, who has signed a four-year contract worth $205,000 per year, was an assistant coach at Maine under the late Shawn Walsh when the Black Bears won the first of their two NCAA championships in 1992-93. That was the last of his three seasons in Orono.
“I am delighted to be back and [wife] Jan’s happy to come back,” said Gendron, who addressed a turnout of approximately 200 when he was introduced as the new coach at Alfond Arena on Tuesday and called the Maine position “my dream job.”
He said in order to turn the program around, “we’ve got to establish certain cultural things. We’re going to be a program that is about growth. We’re going to compete every day in practice. We’re going to work hard. We’re going to try to outwork everybody that we play and the only way to do that is by doing it every day, not just attempting to do it on Friday and Saturday nights.”
He said his Black Bears will play an aggressive style of hockey.
“We’re going after people. We will train like crazy and play fast. That first practice is going to be a son-of-a-gun,” said Gendron. “It may not be the best way to play next season in terms of wins and losses. But we want to be long-term greedy. If we lose a few more games than we should next season because we’re building something bigger and better for later on, I can live with that.”
He said he hopes to name his two assistants within “ a couple of weeks.”
Bob Corkum and Dan Kerluke, who were Maine’s associate head coaches this season, will receive consideration. Corkum had been the interim head coach.
“They are certainly candidates,” said Gendron. “I owe it to them. They’re Maine men. They both went to school here. To dismiss them without talking to them would be inappropriate.
“I’ll speak to both of them but I’m also leaving my options open. At the end of the day, I’ll pick the two men who will do the best job for us in both recruiting and the ability to teach and coach,” he added.
Gendron said they will recruit “everywhere” and they will recruit players “who want to win championships and become professional players. I want men with character who love hockey like we do, who appreciate what it takes to win and who want to be great students and citizens.”
He said he has had “countless requests” from prospective assistants.
“That’s a very good sign,” said Gendron. “All I know is I’m going to coach this team and find the right coaches to help me do it. I’m not going to do it by myself. That was Shawn’s genius. He hired very capable people and got out of the way and let them work. That’s exactly how I intend to do it.”
While addressing the media, h e called former Maine assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Grant Standbrook “the greatest college hockey recruiter of all time, by far, who also possesses an incredible hockey mind and unparallelled teaching skills.”
And he said afterward that if Standbrook wanted to get involved with the program again, he would embrace it.
“I would give him the keys to the arena,” quipped Gendron.
Standbrook spent 18 seasons at Maine and eventually left the program in 2008 after serving as the volunteer assistant coach.
Gendron said his players will be unselfish, they will be fit and everyone in the program will be held accountable “starting with me and going down to the staff, the players, the athletic trainer, the equipment man and the folks who work in the office.”
He said he knows he will be under a microscope but he is unfazed by the pressure.
“If, after four years, there isn’t enough progress, they’ll get rid of me and bring in the next guy. Rightfully so. We’re going to get after it and then we’ll see what happens,” said Gendron.
The Black Bears, who were among the top 11 penalized teams in the country the past three season, will be disciplined.
“If the players aren’t disciplined, they won’t play. I don’t care who you are. It’s that simple,” said the 55-year-old Gendron.
He intends to spend time in the community to regain some of the fans who have stopped going to Maine games in recent years.
Maine averaged 4,175 per home game this past season, the lowest since the 1991-92 season. And, over the past five seasons, they have dipped from 3,600 season ticket holders to just 1,900.
“I’m going to start first by being me,” said Gendron. “I’m going to be genuine. I need to be out in the local restaurants. I’ve got to spend my money. I’ve got to talk to people. If I see someone with a Maine sweater, I’m going to go up and shake their hand.
“Certainly, our athletic department will create numerous opportunities for me to be me out there where I might be able to make a difference in generating some enthusiasm,” said Gendron, who thanked President Paul Ferguson, athletic director Steve Abbott and members of the search committee along with the previous head coaches at Maine who each played an important role in building the program.
When informed that former Black Bear All-American and current New York Islanders head coach, Jack Capuano may have been the top choice but elected to stay with the Islanders, Gendron said it didn’t bother him.
“If I was the second fiddle, I really don’t care. I’m damned happy to be here. I don’t care if I was the eighth guy on the freakin’ list. Who cares,” said Gendron, a native of Berlin, N.H.
In addition to his NCAA championship ring from 1992-93, Gendron also has an NCAA championship ring from Yale, which won its first NCAA title last month, along with three Stanley Cup rings from his 11 seasons as an assistant coach with the New Jersey Devils and their AHL affiliate, the Albany River Rats. He was also the head coach of the River Rats for a season and a half.
Gendron spent six seasons as an assistant at UMass before leaving to become an assistant at Yale two years ago.
He said his three years at Maine from 1990 to 1993 left a lasting impression on him.
“I vividly recall that championship game in 1993 [5-4 win over Lake Superior State] and the furious third-period comeback engineered by Jim Montgomery, Paul Kariya, Cal Ingraham, Garth Snow and Mike Dunham and if that wasn’t incredible enough, the airport ride home and the reception held here are indelibly etched in my memory,” said Gendron. “I want this generation of Maine men to experience what the ’93 and ’99 [championship] teams did. We want to compete for championships every season and play at a sold-out Alfond Arena every night.”