ORONO, Maine — University of Maine men’s hockey coach Red Gendron entered this season in a tenuous situation. He had two years left on his contract and was coming off three straight losing seasons and two consecutive 11th-place finishes in 12-team Hockey East.
But Gendron’s fifth season turned out to be his best so far as the Black Bears went 18-16-4 — the most wins by a UMaine team since the 2011-2012 team went 23-14-3 and earned the program’s last NCAA tournament berth.
This season’s performance helped earn him a two-year contract extension that was announced on Thursday.
“I try not to think about those things. (Former New Jersey Devils general manager) Lou Lamoriello told me don’t worry about keeping your job, worry about doing your job,” said Gendron, who was an assistant with the Devils.
The terms of the extension, which runs through June 30, 2021, remain unchanged from the current contract. He will earn $213,282.08 per year.
UMaine, picked to finish last or tied for last in both preseason polls, tied for fifth (10-11-3) but was seeded sixth because it lost a tiebreaker to Connecticut.
UMaine was swept archrival New Hampshire in their best-of-three first-round series but was swept by Providence in the quarterfinals.
The Black Bears went 11-21-4 during 2016-2017 — 5-15-2 in Hockey East for the second straight year — but achieved its dramatic turnaround this season with one of the youngest teams in Hockey East.
Five of the Black Bears’ top six scorers and four of their eight prominent defensemen were freshmen or sophomores and freshman goalie Jeremy Swayman earned an all-rookie berth.
UMaine had only four seniors, three of whom played.
They graduate defenseman and co-captain Mark Hamilton, left wing Nolan Vesey and center Cedric Lacroix, an alternate captain, and winger Malcolm Hayes, who did not play.
“We took a significant step this year,” said the 60-year-old Gendron. “We had the depth of talent required to do that. And we had great leadership.”
Gendron said the future goal is to continue to climb the standings in Hockey East and earn an NCAA tournament berth.
“We want to close the gap every year,” said Gendron, who is 67-98-21 in his five seasons. “At the same time, we want to focus on the day-to-day process. We did pretty well sticking to the process this year. We want to get better every single day. That’s how you improve your results.”
Gendron also praised assistant coaches Ben Guite, Alfie Michaud and Brad Schuler for their contributions.
“We very much appreciate Red’s ongoing efforts to build this team to a championship level,” UMaine interim athletic director Jim Settele said in a press release. “Under his leadership, we had an exciting year reaching the Hockey East quarterfinals, and we know that next year should be even more impressive.”
Gendron first came to UMaine in 1990 and for three seasons, including the 1993 NCAA national championship team, he was an assistant to coach Shawn Walsh. When Gendron returned to UMaine as head coach, he signed a four-year contract through June 2017. He previously signed a two-year contract extension in February 2016.
Gendron, who just wrapped up his 39th year of coaching, said he is grateful to President Susan J. Hunter and Settele for the extension and said he is blessed to be coaching at UMaine.
“I’m having a boatload of fun,” said Gendron. “It’s awesome to be able to work with young people. Some of them go on to play in the NHL but for others, the NHL just isn’t in the cards. Maybe they get to the AHL where they play just as hard and work just as hard as you do in the NHL.
“Others go on to be successful in business. I can only hope that our program added values to their lives, personally and professionally,” said Gendron.
Gendron said he always attends his players’ graduations.
“I do that because it’s the culmination of everything, not just hockey but their entire experience,” said Gendron. “It’s pretty cool to see their parents smiling as well as their grandparents … sisters and brothers.”
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