Tim Whitehead made a smooth and successful transition to coaching at the prep school level.
Whitehead, who was fired after 12 years as the head coach at the University of Maine last April, led his Kimball Union Academy team to its second New England Preparatory School Athletic Council Small School championship in three years.
The Wildcats, based in Meriden, N.H., finished at 26-6-5.
“It has been a great experience,” said Whitehead. “It has been a lot of fun for our family.
“We had only two guys back who had played any significant minutes last season and we had 16 new players. It took a while. We went through a tough stretch in January but we needed that. We became a stronger team,” added Whitehead.
Whitehead had spent the previous 24 seasons coaching at the college level.
He spent two years as an assistant at Division III Middlebury College before coming to Maine for the 1990-91 season. He moved on to UMass Lowell, where he assisted Bruce Crowder for four years, before replacing Crowder as the head coach at UML and spending five years in that role.
Whitehead then took over as the head coach at Maine after Shawn Walsh died from complications of kidney cancer.
“I miss coaching at the college level, I certainly miss the high competition level,” he said. “I certainly miss the atmosphere and fans at Maine and, most importantly, I missed the players that I recruited.”
Whitehead went 250-171-54 in his 12 seasons behind the Maine bench. He is a six-time finalist for the Spencer Penrose Award that goes to the nation’s top Division I coach and he won it in 2002 when he led his first Maine team to a berth in the NCAA title game.
He said there is a common denominator between Maine and Kimball Union.
“You still have 25 guys who want to get better and play at a high level,” he said.
He also spends a lot of time recruiting, as he did at Maine.
“But it’s more similar to recruiting for an Ivy League school,” said Whitehead. “You have to be very aware of the academic abilities of your potential players. You don’t want to spin your wheels on the wrong kids. And there is only so much financial aid available. So you have to be very smart with it.”
When he isn’t recruiting or coaching, he is fundraising, as he also works for the Alumni and Development Office.
“We’re raising money to build a new fitness center next to the rink,” said Whitehead.
He followed the University of Maine’s team and said, “I’m real proud of the boys. I was very pleased to see them progress as I anticipated that they would.”
Maine finished 16-15-4 under first-year head coach Red Gendron and wound up sixth in Hockey East at 9-8-3, although the Black Bears went into the final series of the regular season with a chance to finish as high as second. But they were swept by Providence and were eventually knocked out of the Hockey East quarterfinals by the Friars.
Whitehead said he received a lot of text messages and emails from his former players, including those who are playing pro hockey.
His wife, Dena, took a teaching position and their two children, Natalie and Zachary, adapted well to their new home, he said.
Whitehead, who had one year left on his contract and received a $190,000 buyout from the university, was noncommittal about returning to college hockey.
“I’m happy to be here right now. That’s my only focus. It has provided a good opportunity for our family and I really enjoy this process,” he said.