Scott Hillman, who has been a professional hockey head coach for 10 years including two years in the ECHL, will serve as a volunteer assistant this season for the University of Maine men’s team.
He replaces Colten St. Clair, who has moved on to the United States Hockey League, according to UMaine head coach Red Gendron.
Hillman said there were several reasons behind his interest in the UMaine job.
“First of all, the program has such a great history. And I have a ton of respect for the coaching staff,” Hillman said. “Beyond that, I just love the NCAA. Although I didn’t play college hockey in the states, I recruited kids from this league [for pro hockey] for a lot of years.”
Hillman’s full-time job is as a support professional at OHI Maine, a nonprofit organization based in Hermon that offers people with disabilities resources to set their own goals and make life choices.
The 45-year-old Hillman was the first coach of the fledgling Indy Fuel of the ECHL — which is two steps below the National Hockey League — during the 2014-15 season and guided them to a 58-60-7 record over 2 1/2 seasons.
Last season, Hillman coached Frisk Asker in the Norwegian GET League.
He previously coached the Knoxville Ice Bears of the Southern Professional Hockey League to back-to-back championships in 2008 and 2009, and was named the league coach of the year in 2009. He directed the Missouri Mavericks of the Central Hockey League for five years before taking the Indy Fuel job.
“He obviously has an awful lot of experience,” Gendron said. “He is highly qualified.”
Hillman, a native of LaSalle, Ontario, enjoyed an extensive professional playing career after being named a first-team All-Canadian defenseman at the University of Windsor in Ontario.
He appeared in 474 pro games, including eight seasons for the Odessa Jackalopes of the Western Professional Hockey League and then the Central Hockey League. He amassed 70 goals and 331 assists.
Hillman’s background as a defenseman could come in extremely handy this season because the Black Bears will be inexperienced on the blue line. Five of their top seven defenseman departed.
“There are a million things he will be able to help us out with,” Gendron said. “We’ll figure it out as we go along and get to know each other. He will be doing a lot of video work.”
Hillman said what drives him as a coach is the opportunity to impact young men by helping them develop as people in addition to hockey players.
“As a head coach in the minor leagues, you don’t have a very big staff, so you have to adapt and school yourself in all the positions,” Hillman said. “Being a defenseman myself, coaching defensemen might be a strength, for sure.”
Brad Schuler, UMaine’s volunteer coach prior to St. Clair, is the video coach for the Ontario Reign of the American Hockey League, the Los Angeles Kings’ top minor-league affiliate.
“We’ve had great people every year. They bring different things to the table. It has been very good for us,” Gendron said.
The addition of Hillman gives the Black Bears one assistant who was a former forward (Ben Guite), one who played goalie (Alfie Michaud) and a defenseman (Hillman).
UMaine, which had a 15-17-4 record last season, opens the season Oct. 5 at Providence College.