ORONO, Maine — They met, appropriately, on their first recruiting trip as assistant coaches at their new schools. Richard Reichenbach was an assistant coach for the SUNY-Cortland women’s ice hockey team and Sara Simard was in her first season at Dartmouth College.
They were in Stoney Creek, Ontario.
“For me, I don’t want to say it was love at first sight but it was, pretty much,” grinned the 33-year-old Simard, a native of Gatineau, Quebec.
“I was very nervous,” said Reichenbach. “It was my first recruiting tournament ever. I was acting pretty professional and businesslike and I said [to myself] ‘This is pretty cool. The Dartmouth coach seems really interested in learning hockey from me.’”
Simard laughed heartily.
“That’s how we started talking and how we got to know one another,” said the 31-year-old Reichenbach, who is from Syracuse, N.Y.
They developed a long-distance relationship, often recruiting together, until she finally joined him last year at the University of Maine. Reichenbach was in his third year as an assistant coach at Maine while Simard, who had previously coached at Maine before spending three years at Dartmouth, became an academic counselor and volunteer assistant.
She became a paid assistant this season and Richard proposed to her on Sept. 13 at her sister Lisa’s house in Stoney Creek. She accepted.
They had tentatively planned to get married in May.
But Betty Fadrigon, the administrative assistant for the women’s hockey program, suggested they get married in her backyard and they took her up on it.
On Oct. 14, Sara and Richard Reichenbach became husband and wife at Gene and Betty Fadrigon’s house in Old Town. The Rev. Bruce Young, a friend of the Fadrigons, presided and his wife, Kitty, was also in attendance along with the Fadrigons.
“I was the most calm bride ever,” quipped Sara.
“It was the calmest wedding ever,” Richard added.
“Kitty called it one of the most heartfelt ceremonies ever,” related Betty Fadrigon, who added that working with the Reichenbachs is a “pleasure.
“They light up the office. They are good people who are very much in love,” said Fadrigon.
The Reichenbachs, who own a house in Milford, will renew their vows for their families in January in the Bangor area.
Head coach Maria Lewis had been placed on paid administrative leave in September for a variety of secondary NCAA violations and the Reichenbachs ran the team. When Lewis resigned on Oct. 31, they became the co-head coaches.
They admit that they bring their work home but that’s fine by them.
“We’ve always talked hockey. We have a deep passion for it. It has been a big part of our lives since we were young. Many of our friends we met through hockey,” said Richard, who captained the Hamilton College (N.Y.) hockey team and played a year of professional hockey for Richmond in the Southern Professional Hockey League. “It’s exciting to be working toward a common goal.
“We’re pretty opposite the way we approach things but our hockey philosophies are similar,” added Richard. “It provides us with a great perspective. The most important thing in coaching is communication and we’re on the same page.”
They share the coaching responsibilities, including the recruiting.
“And if [an idea] pops up in the middle of the night, I’ll say, ‘What about this?” said Sara, who played at Hebron Academy and appeared in two Frozen Fours in her four years at St. Lawrence University before playing a year of pro hockey in Switzerland and trying out for the Swiss National team.
“We’re able to express ourselves to each other openly and honestly. We’ve always been able to communicate … better than we probably would with another assistant. Ricky has always said we spend more time together than any two people around,” she said.
Sara works with the forwards and Richard handles the defensemen and goalies. But they will also switch off.
“We’re really lucky. There’s no ego involved between the two of us. I never feel she’s stepping on my toes. If she tells me she thinks I’m wrong, I’m OK with it because I know she’s doing what she feels is best for the program,” said Richard.
“We really push each other,” said Sara. “He’s not only my husband, he’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever worked with. He’s very smart. He’s a very talented and dedicated coach.”
They had to handle a delicate situation with Lewis’ resignation.
“We rallied together and said we have to make sure the girls have a great experience,” said Sara. “It’s all about the girls. We want to make sure they’re happy and successful on the ice and in life. We want them to like coming to the rink. That’s what was most important to us.”
Making their job easier has been the attitude of their players.
“We’ve been lucky. The girls are awesome. They are tremendous people who love coming to the rink,” said Sara.
The team hasn’t won yet, going 0-11-3 overall and 0-7-3 in Hockey East.
But the Reichenbachs feel their team is making progress.
“We don’t let our record define us as a program. The girls have been positive. I’ve never seen a team compete and push each other as hard in practice as they do,” said Sara. “It’s amazing. We have confidence in them and they’re confident in what we’re doing.”
Richard said they had recent recruits tell them “how lucky we are to be working with these girls every day.”
They are convinced that the victories will come and the program will eventually flourish and become a consistent winner thanks to the resiliency they’ve developed this season.
“We don’t care what people think about us. We enjoy being around each other and we are growing and developing,” said Sara. “We’re going full steam ahead.”