ORONO, Maine — Ben Guite was a longshot to play in the National Hockey League. The former University of Maine forward was just a seventh-round pick (172nd overall) of the Montreal Canadiens in 1997.
He played more than 400 games in the ECHL and AHL before he finally got his chance to play in the NHL — then put together a 175-game NHL career with three teams.
Now he is returning to Maine as the first of two assistant coaches hired by new coach Dennis “Red” Gendron.
Guite will be the No. 2 assistant coach, while the No. 1 assistant has yet to be named, according to a source close to the program.
Gendron could not be reached for comment.
“I’m really excited about it,” said Guite, who began the job on Monday. “This is an unbelievable opportunity for me.”
It will be the first coaching stint for Guite, who turns 35 next month. He recently hung up his skates after a 13-year pro career.
Former Maine assistant coach and longtime NHL assistant Jay Leach acknowledged that he has discussed the top assistant position with Gendron, but is also considering other opportunities.
Guite said he had a productive interview with Gendron.
“We really hit it off,” said Guite.
One of the common denominators was their passion for the program.
“He has a lot of passion for Maine hockey like I do and we both owe a lot to the program,” said Guite. “And we want to get the program back on top where it should be. We want to be championship contenders.”
He played in Italy last season after 12 seasons in North America ( ECHL, AHL and NHL). He played a total of 851 games and, in his 175-game NHL career, notched 19 goals and 26 assists.
Guite said although he doesn’t have any coaching experience, “I’ve been the oldest guy on my team the past few years and I have worked with the young guys.”
He has thought about getting involved in coaching for the past few years and anticipates being a link between the coaches and the players while also spending a lot of time on the road recruiting, in addition to his on-ice coaching.
Guite said he has handled a lot of different roles throughout his career and that should help him as a coach.
“At the minor league level, I was relied upon to be a complete player. In the NHL, I was solely a defensive player and, in Italy, they wanted me to be a scorer,” said Guite.
Guite played four seasons at Maine and was a member of the 1999 NCAA championship team. His statistics improved every year, capped by a 22-goal, 14-assist campaign as a senior (1999-2000).
The Montreal native had his best pro season in 2005-2006 when he had 22 goals and 31 assists in 73 games for the Providence Bruins (AHL). He had 17 & 30 in 72 games for the Springfield Falcons (AHL) in 2010-11. His best season in the NHL came in 2007-2008 when he had 11 & 11 in 79 games for the Colorado Avalanche.
Maine has made just one NCAA tournament appearance in the last six seasons after a string of nine straight.
“I have a lot of fond memories of my time at Maine,” said Guite. “It is a great spot to start my coaching career.”
Guite’s wife, Kristen (Leo), is from Portland. They have two sons, Patrick (2) and Maxime (4 months).