ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine men’s hockey team’s media day at Alfond Arena had a different feel Monday, as it should have.
The players already have noticed a significant difference in coaching regimes even though they have had only four hours of practice with Gendron — two hours per week — as allowed under NCAA guidelines until regular practices begin next week.
“It has been very intense but that’s the way practices should be,” said junior defenseman Jake Rutt from Scarborough. “The better teams practice harder so when the games come around, they seem like a cakewalk.
“[Gendron] runs a very good practice. They’re very productive,” added Rutt. “He also preaches fitness.”
Junior center Stu Higgins said the team has worked hard.
“I’m not saying we haven’t done it in the past but there has definitely been a pretty intense atmosphere around the rink,” he said. “You almost feel like you’re coming to a game. You’re pumped up and nervous because of how seriously we take our practices. That’s really good because when you practice like that consistently, games become second nature.”
Sophomore center Devin Shore, who was chosen one of the assistant captains, said the team has learned a lot.
“It has been different. It has been a huge culture shock. But the change has been good,” he said.
“He demands the best from his players,” added Shore.
Shore noted that the Black Bears will play an up-tempo, attack-oriented style.
“It’s an exciting, passionate style,” said Shore. “Red is a very passionate coach. He loves the game and he loves to win even more. He’s trying to instill those values into us and I think it’s working. Winning is number one here as it should be.
“We’re going to try to outwork and outskate our opponents night in and night out,” Shore added.
“He has a powerful presence in the locker room,” said senior right wing Mark Anthoine of Lewiston, another assistant captain. “When he speaks, you’re going to listen to him. He knows a lot about winning. You see it every day when you look at his Stanley Cup ring. You want to listen to him because he knows what he’s talking about.”
Gendron earned three Stanley Cup rings during his 11 seasons coaching in the New Jersey Devils organization and also won NCAA championships as an assistant coach at the University of Maine in 1992-93 and at Yale University last season.
“We’re going to be a pretty gritty team,” predicted sophomore left wing Will Merchant.
“Toward the end of the season, no one is going to want to play us. We’re going to be a hardworking team,” he said. “We’re going to be very physical. We’re going to use the big bodies that we have. We’re going to be very hard to play against.”
Higgins pointed to Yale’s late-season run a year ago that supplied them with their first NCAA championship.
“They were in such good shape. They might not have had the most talented players but they all bought into the system and they applied all-out pressure and when you do that, the sky’s the limit,” said Higgins. “[Gendron] said you either play on your heels or your toes. It’s definitely more fun bringing the game to your opponent.”
Gendron said it won’t be difficult selling his in-your-face, attack-minded play to his players.
“It’s a fun way to play,” said Gendron.
Senior defenseman Brice O’Connor, who was chosen the team captain by his teammates this past weekend, said the high level of energy and positive attitudes have been infectious.
“He wants everything you have, every shift,” said O’Connor. “He makes you that much more eager to show what you can do when you’re out there.”
O’Connor also noted that Gendron will stop practice to point out a mistake.
The players will have to prove themselves to Gendron because no one is guaranteed a spot in the lineup.
“Does it matter what the players did last year? I don’t think so. It’s what they’re doing now. That’s what matters,” said Gendron. “Every kid coming back has to be better than he was last year. Every new kid has to find a way to contribute to the team. And it is everyone’s job to get better every single day.”
His practices will be short but intense.
“It’s a lot more fun to practice hard for an hour and 15 minutes or an hour and a half and then get off the ice. You’ll be exhausted but you’ll feel like you accomplished something,” said Gendron.
Gendron said his first hockey media day was fun and he was pleased with the large media throng.
The Black Bears, 11-19-8 a year ago, will open the season with an exhibition game against Dalhousie University (Nova Scotia) at 4 p.m. Sunday in Orono.