The performance of the University of Maine men’s hockey team in Wednesday night’s 7-2 shellacking at the hands of archrival New Hampshire in the Hockey East playoffs validates the need for a thorough evaluation of the program.
It was the Black Bears’ first home game of the season due to COVID-19 restrictions, so it was expected the energized Black Bears would be a solid favorite over a UNH team that was 2-10-2 in its previous 14 games.
The Wildcats hadn’t played since Feb. 20 and goaltender Mike Robinson had an abysmal 5.40 goals-against average and .784 save percentage in his previous four appearances.
But the two-headed monster that has haunted eighth-year UMaine head coach Red Gendron throughout his tenure — a shortage of talent and a lack of discipline — reared its ugly head as the Wildcats dominated.
UMaine, which afforded UNH seven power plays, is the nation’s second most penalized team. It has been among the eight most penalized teams in Division I the last four seasons.
This is the final year of Gendron’s contract, which expires on June 30. It’s difficult to find a reason why UMaine athletic director Ken Ralph would offer him an extension.
“No one involved with the team is satisfied with a 3-11-2 record. Accountability rests with everyone involved in the program, including me,” Ralph said. “We have to do a better job with providing the program the resources necessary to play at the highest levels of Division I. The competition is going to keep getting better and we have to rise to the occasion.”
A UMaine program that has been to 18 NCAA Tournaments, 11 Frozen Fours and won two national championships hasn’t even reached the Hockey East semifinals since 2012, coinciding with its last NCAA Tournament appearance.
UMaine had its best opportunity to break those streaks a year ago when it had Jeremy Swayman, the nation’s best goaltender. But the Black Bears’ home quarterfinal series against Connecticut was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gendron was chosen the league Coach of the Year.
But that was a rare bright spot. UMaine’s average finish in Hockey East under Gendron is between seventh and eighth place.
The longtime New Jersey Devils assistant coach was an assistant on UMaine’s 1993 NCAA championship team and Yale’s 2013 NCAA title team, but the success hasn’t translated to his role as a head coach.
Over the last six seasons, Gendron’s teams have averaged a No. 36 ranking in goals per game and No. 38 in goals-against average among 60 Division I programs.
The staff has recruited too many third- and fourth line-caliber forwards and third-tandem defensemen. Swayman was a recruiting coup for Gendron and his staff, but there have been too few elite players.
Gendron has recruited only four all-conference performers — Swayman, forwards Chase Pearson and Mitch Fossier, and defenseman Brady Keeper. Only eight times has a player scored 10 goals or more.
Gendron’s overall record at UMaine is 103-130-32 (.449) and his Hockey East regular-season mark is 63-89-21. His teams are 4-13 in playoff games.
Over the last four seasons, UMaine is 54-54-15 overall and 36-39-12 in Hockey East regular-season contests.
When Gendron took over for Tim Whitehead, he said his goals were to return the program to the upper echelon of college hockey and compete for championships.
That hasn’t happened.
In contrast, Whitehead went 147-129-32 (96-94-26 in Hockey East) over the last eight years of his 12-year stint.
Gendron and his staff have been handicapped in recruiting by an aging, 45-year-old Alfond Arena facility that badly needs a facelift and one of the league’s lowest recruiting budgets. Renovations are planned as part of the $90 million Harold Alfond Foundation gift.
UMaine coaches also are among the lowest-paid staffs, if not the lowest, in Hockey East.
Alfond Arena remains a valuable recruiting tool as it still provides one of the liveliest buildings in college hockey with one of the nation’s best game-night atmospheres.
Gendron nonetheless has demonstrated his commitment to UMaine.
He is a tireless worker who cares deeply about the program, the community, the university and the state. Since 2014, he has donated five percent of his $213,282.08 annual salary ($11,564.10) to the Grant Standbrook Maine Hockey Forever Fund.
That is believed to be the largest donation from a UMaine coach.
He has been a valuable fundraiser and is the consummate company man who supports all the teams on campus. Gendron rarely yaps at referees and 19 of his players were on the Hockey East All-Academic team last season.
But it is a performance-based industry. You have to win.