John Whitesides has two degrees from the University of Maine.
And, on Thursday, he will possess the best-known trophy in sports and the hardest one to win: the Stanley Cup.
Whitesides is the 11-year strength and conditioning coach for the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins and, as is tradition, every member of the team gets to have the cherished Cup for a day.
“I’m going to take it to Children’s Hospital in Boston, where my 19-month-old son (John) had spent some time with a lymph node infection, and then I’m taking it to the Perkins School for the Blind,” explained Whitesides, who received his bachelor’s degree in health and physical education in 1995 and his master’s in exercise physiology two years later.
Whitesides, who spent four years as the assistant strength and conditioning coach for 17 sports at Boston College before coming to the Bruins, said this Bruins team “was the best group, by far, that I have ever worked with.
“From top to bottom, everyone got along real well. We all felt like we were in this together. It was like what we had when we won the national championship in hockey at BC in 2001. Everyone backed each other up on and off the ice and everyone took it seriously,” he added.
One of the prevailing thoughts was the Bruins wore the Vancouver Canucks down over the course of the seven-game series which would imply that their conditioning was superior.
But the 38-year-old Whitesides wouldn’t take any credit.
“I don’t think it had anything to do with me,” said Whitesides. “It has everything to do with the players and the types of players we have. We have big, strong, physical kids and when Vancouver tried to push us around, they couldn’t back it up. We have big, aggressive men who are very well conditioned because they’ve put the time in.”
His road to Orono from his native North Conway, N.H., began when he was recruited by former Black Bear football coach and current Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz.
He calls his decision to attend Maine “crucial” in his career choice.
A linebacker, Whitesides’ Black Bear career was hampered by shin and elbow injuries.
“I spent a lot of time in the weight room with Bob Lehnhard, who was the football team’s strength and conditioning coach at the time, and I really liked (what he did). There are no politics. It’s cut and dried. If you work hard, you’ll get better,” he said.
He also learned “what it was like to be injured and separated from the team.”
Whitesides spent a lot of time in the exercise physiology and biomechanics labs at Maine and Lehnhard, who was also his advisor, gave him a valuable suggestion.
“He told me ‘You know how to train men but it’s important to learn how to train women.’ So he suggested I work with one of the women’s programs and I wound up working with (coach) Terry Kix and her field hockey team. It was great working with them.”
And he discovered that there was always a woman on the search committee at his job interviews.
He feels he was better prepared than people who graduated from other schools thanks to the hands-on approach and family atmosphere at Maine.
In addition to Lehnhard, professors like Glenn Reif and Steve Butterfield were also valuable influences, he said.