University of Maine director of athletics Ken Ralph said he expects to name a new head men’s ice hockey coach within two weeks.
To achieve that goal, he has enlisted the help of some well-known former Black Bear players.
Ralph on Tuesday said he anticipates naming a coach “at the end of the first week of May” to replace Red Gendron. The veteran coach was set to return for a ninth year behind the Black Bear bench when he died on April 9 while playing golf at Penobscot Valley Country Club in Orono.
Ralph is chairing a six-member search committee that also includes former UMaine stars Jim Montgomery, Garth Snow and Bruce Major along with UMaine deputy director of athletics Brian Faison and Samantha Hegmann, the associate athletic director for compliance and NCAA Senior Woman Administrator.
“We have already done our initial review of candidates. We actively solicited a majority of them,” Ralph said. “Their experiences and successes in the hockey world are well known to us and we didn’t want to sit back and wait for them [to apply].”
The job will pay $233,185 per year, a slight increase over what Gendron earned, but that will still be the lowest salary in Hockey East. For that reason, Ralph doesn’t envision attracting a candidate who is already a Division I head coach.
Ralph said interviews will begin later this week and that all will be done virtually.
“We are breaking them into two parts. Jim, Garth and Bruce will focus on their knowledge of the game, their ability to teach the game, their long-term plan for the program and their recruiting reach,” he said.
“Brian, Samantha and I will focus on campus culture. We will be asking questions about academic compliance, community service, engagement with faculty and other departmental questions. And then we’re going to merge the results.”
Ralph said Montgomery was the first call he made. He hired UMaine’s all-time leading scorer as an assistant coach when he was at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York.
Montgomery’s wife Emily is from St. Louis and their family of six is happy there, so he told Ralph he wasn’t interested in the job.
He agreed instead to be on the search committee along with Snow. The teammates in 1993 led UMaine to the first of its two NCAA national championships. Snow served as the general manager of the NHL’s New York Islanders.
Lisbon native Greg Moore, a former UMaine captain, also wasn’t prepared to pursue the Black Bears job as he is coaching the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies. He did give Ralph a list of names of top candidates.
UMaine associate head coach Ben Guite, who was promoted to interim head coach on April 14, also is going after the job.
Ralph said UMaine has cast a wide net in its search and that he has made 159 phone calls to coaches, NHL general managers, NHL scouts, family advisors and player agents to gather information.
“We’re looking for someone who has a plan as to how they are going to develop this program,” he said. “Secondly, he has to be someone who is committed to getting top-end talent to Maine and recognizes the amount of work it will take.”
That will include establishing the best recruiting process, whether tapping the Junior hockey ranks, hitting the Maritime and western Canada, or scouring Europe. The coach must convince UMaine recruits they can develop here and have a successful pro career.
Ralph also stressed the need for the successful candidate to engage with the community, the state and the media.
Ralph is aware UMaine’s pay scale and more limited recruiting budget are factors. He said the program no longer has the resources that were in place when late coach Shawn Walsh led UMaine to two NCAA titles, but he believes the situation will improve with more success on the ice.
UMaine hasn’t reached the NCAA Tournament, or even the semifinals of Hockey East playoffs, since the 2012 season.
UMaine was 3-11-2 during the COVID-19-shortened season and had the second fewest NHL draft picks (2) among the 11 teams in Hockey East.
Ralph said $20 million of the $90 million Harold Alfond Foundation gift earmarked for athletic facilities improvements at UMaine will go toward renovations at 45-year-old Alfond Arena, which should help recruiting.
He was impressed with the candidate pool and is adamant in his belief that UMaine can return to the upper echelon of college hockey.
“Just look at the Frozen Four this year. Three of the four teams are Division II schools [in other sports],” Ralph said of Minnesota schools St. Cloud State, Minnesota State and Minnesota-Duluth.
Massachusetts, from Hockey East, won its first national title.
Ralph said the former players on the search committee want UMaine’s next coach to be able to adapt to changes in the game and keep the program fresh and relevant in the long term.
“They don’t want a one-hit wonder. They want sustained excellence. That’s what we all want,” Ralph said.
“The game has evolved but there is still room in the game for a school like Maine [to achieve that],” he said.