Mike Latendresse had planned on a long professional hockey career after spending two productive seasons at the University of Maine.
There, he racked up 41 goals and 49 assists in 73 games and won a national championship in 1993.
But when a skate sliced the nerves and tendons in his left arm when he was playing his second pro season with the Birmingham Bulls of the East Coast Hockey League, requiring more than seven hours of surgery, “I had to change my focus from having a long hockey career to getting involved in coaching.”
Latendresse played three more seasons in the ECHL and served as a player-assistant coach with Birmingham in 1996-97.
When he played for the Wheeling Nailers, his coach was Peter Laviolette, who led Carolina to the 2006 Stanley Cup and also coached the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers.
Between Laviolette, late UMaine head coach Shawn Walsh and Walsh’s former assistants Grant Standbrook and Red Gendron, Latendresse said, “I have been lucky to have played for great coaches.”
The coach at Messalonskee High School in Oakland has taken their positive traits and formulated his own philosophy and style. And spending his first season helping Colby men’s hockey coach Blaise MacDonald “rejuvenated me.”
Latendresse and his Eagles capped a 21-0 season Saturday with their first ever state hockey championship courtesy of an impressive 6-1 win over Gorham at Lewiston.
That gave the 12th-year head coach a 57-7 record over the past three seasons.
“Playing for coach Latendresse has been one of the best things to ever happen to me,” said Eagles senior left wing Josh Towle. “He’s an amazing coach and an amazing guy. He knows everything there is to know about the game and he’s a motivator.”
“He cares about every single one of his players, no matter who they are,” said senior right wing Chase Cunningham, the school’s all-time leading scorer. “He’s the best coach I’ve ever played for. He does all the little things.”
The 43-year-old Latendresse, a Montreal native, said his coaching philosophy starts with discipline.
“That’s the one word I use to start every team meeting. It’s not just about not taking penalties, it’s about how we play the game. My second focus is defense. We need to make great decisions in our own end. If you don’t allow [many] goals, you’re going to win a lot of games.
“And it is important to take care of the puck, to value possession of the puck,” he added.
Latendresse admits he is intense and demanding of his players but he also said he likes to have fun with them.
“He has a great sense of humor but he also knows when to be serious. We have a lot of fun, especially before practice,” said Towle.
The Eagles had lost in state championship games to Greely of Cumberland Center the previous two years, but they put together a thorough game against Gorham that earned them the title.
“It was our best game of the season. It was a very emotional day. These kids have made an impact on me,” said Latendresse.
He had scouted Gorham four times during the season.
Latendresse said his team had two great practices leading up to the state game and the one day the practice wasn’t as good, they had a “great team meeting.”
He said whenever his team was challenged this season, “it always stepped up.”
Early-season wins over eventual state Class A champ Falmouth and Eastern Maine Class A runner-up Bangor gave his team an important boost of confidence and they carried it throughout the season.
“We improved throughout the year. To win a state championship is special. To go undefeated and win it is very special,” he said.
“Going undefeated made it a lot more special,” agreed Cunningham.
“It was such a great feeling,” said Towle. “There’s no better way to go out as a senior.”