ORONO, Maine — Mark Anthoine and Jon Swavely know expectations are always going to be high for the University of Maine men’s hockey program, which claimed NCAA championships in 1993 and 1999.
Not living up to those expectations can cost the head coach his job, which is exactly what happened earlier this month when Black Bears head coach Tim Whitehead was fired with one year left on his contract.
Both players, right wingers who will be seniors next season, said they are moving forward and fully understand it is part of the business.
They were sad to see Whitehead go.
“We’re a family and he was part of the family,” Swavely said. “He loved this program. He was a big part of what this program is.”
“I have a lot of respect for what he has done for Maine hockey through the years,” Anthoine said. “He’s a good guy and he was a good mentor.”
Anthoine and Swavely will have the most experience among the returning Black Bears next season.
Anthoine, a Lewiston native, has played in 111 games while Swavely has appeared in 83 games.
The team is going through dry-land training with strength and conditioning coach Terry O’Neill.
Anthoine and Swavely said as far as they know all 18 players eligible to return next season intend to do so.
Next year’s roster will be composed of five seniors, four juniors and nine sophomores along with the nine-member incoming class.
“We’re all sticking together,” Swavely said. “That’s our focus … [going through this] together.”
He said the firing of Whitehead and hiring of a new coach “isn’t anything we can control.”
“We’re staying together no matter what happens,” Anthoine added.
Both players have an idea about the kind of coach they would like to see replace Whitehead, who was fired because he led the team to just one NCAA tournament appearance over the past six seasons and compiled a record of 96-102-28 during those six years.
Maine went 11-19-8 overall this past season, 7-12-8 in Hockey East. Maine went 6-3-4 in its last 13 league games to climb out of the cellar into the eighth and final playoff spot.
“I’d like to see someone who has faith in the team and the players and who really loves Maine hockey,” Anthoine said.
“I want someone who is passionate about winning,” Swavely said.
Anthoine and Swavely said being the most experienced returning players has thrust them into leadership roles.
“We’re going to make sure we’re in great (physical) shape and everyone else is, too,” Anthoine said.
Captains have obviously not been named for next season due to the uncertainty in the coaching ranks.
Last season’s record included a 2-9-6 mark at Alfond Arena after Whitehead had averaged 12.2 wins in each of the previous 11 seasons. Maine had gone to nine straight NCAA tournaments prior to the recent drought.
Whitehead led them to six of those nine after replacing the legendary Shawn Walsh, who died on Sept. 24, 2001 due to complications from kidney cancer.
Associate head coach Bob Corkum was named the interim head coach until they hire a new coach.
Corkum and fellow associate head coach Dan Kerluke are under contract until June 30 and Corkum has indicated that he is interested in the permanent job. Kerluke has decided to endorse him after initially expressing interest in the position.
A seven-member search committee, which will be chaired by Dr. George Jacobson, professor emeritus of biology, ecology and climate change, was announced Tuesday.
Both players said they have confidence that the search committee, along with athletic director Steve Abbott and president Paul Ferguson, will choose a quality coach.
“I think they’ll make the right decision,” Swavely said, with Anthoine in agreement.
They know there will be high expectations with four of the top five scorers, all of whom were freshmen, and all three goalies headlining the 18 returnees.
But they said those expectations come with the territory.
“I’m excited for next year,” said Swavely.