University of Massachusetts associate head coach Ben Barr on Wednesday morning was introduced as the head men’s ice hockey coach at the University of Maine.
Barr succeeds the late Red Gendron, who collapsed and died on April 9 while golfing at the Penobscot Valley Country Club in Orono.
Barr received a four-year contract that will pay him more than $235,000 per year to start. UMaine athletic director Ken Ralph said there is a provision for a two-year extension for a winning record in Hockey East.
“Ten or 15 years ago, I never would have imagined this in my wildest dreams,” Barr said.
“I have been fortunate to have been around some of the best coaches in the world. With the passing of Red, the circumstances aren’t ideal. It’s tough on the team and tough on the community. I am hoping that, in time, I can honor the people who came before me.”
The 39-year-old native of Faribault, Minnesota, has served as the recruiting coordinator at UMass, which last month won its first NCAA men’s ice hockey national championship.
In his five seasons at UMass, he helped guide the Minutemen to a 94-75-10 record, including a 72-26-6 mark over the last three seasons. His time at UMass included a Hockey East regular-season and tournament title, three NCAA appearances and back-to-back NCAA title game appearances, culminating in last month’s 5-0 win over St. Cloud State in the championship game in Pittsburgh.
“The connections he makes with the players, the way he works with the families and the way he follows through on his promises once they come to campus translates to him being one of the most trusted coaches on the recruiting trail,” Ralph said.
Barr was a captain at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute during the 2003-04 season when Ralph was the AD there. Barr then became an assistant coach at the institute during Ralph’s tenure.
Ralph met Barr in 2002 and knew he was special by the way he carried himself and connected and interacted with people and by his level of maturity. He was cognizant of people thinking he hired Barr because he was a friend, which he said was a disadvantage for Barr.
“I was a lot harder on him than I was on the other candidates,” Ralph said.
Barr has also worked as an assistant coach at two other schools that have gone on to win NCAA titles within the last eight years, Union College and Providence College. He helped recruit players who led those programs to their first NCAA championships in 2014 and 2015, respectively. He had departed those schools before they won the titles.
He spent two seasons as an assistant at Western Michigan and the Broncos went to the NCAA Tournament the year after he left to join head coach Greg Carvel at UMass.
“He has walked the path and being a winner at multiple programs means a lot,” Ralph said. “Ben’s fingerprints are all over [the teams’ success] and that was very important to us.”
Ralph also said that through discussions with a variety of different hockey people, the feeling was Barr is the best recruiter in college hockey.
“There is a tremendous amount of responsibility that goes with the job but I am going to embrace it,” Barr said. “It will take time to build championship programs. We’re going to start by building a championship culture.
“But I know it can be done because I’ve seen it done at multiple places before. You have to put the right people in the right place and make sure they get better every day,” he said. “It is going to require everyone to have the same vision and to pull together.”
Barr joined the UMass staff in 2016 and has worked with the defensemen in addition to being the recruiting coordinator. This year’s team allowed 1.66 goals per game, which ranked second in the country.
Barr becomes UMaine’s fifth head coach since the program began in the modern era in 1977, following Jack Semler, the late Shawn Walsh, Tim Whitehead and Gendron. Greg Cronin spent a year as the interim head coach after Walsh was suspended for his role in NCAA violations.
Barr said UMaine’s rich hockey history, including NCAA titles (1993, 1999), and his relationship with Ralph and Jim Montgomery, UMaine’s career scoring leader, who coached him at RPI when Montgomery was an assistant.
Barr met briefly with the team and hopes all of the players will return.
UMaine associate head coach Ben Guite, who served under Gendron for all eight years, had been operating as the interim head coach in recent weeks and was believed to be one of the finalists in UMaine’s national search.
The Montreal native was promoted from assistant coach to associate head coach on Oct. 14, 2015.
Barr said he plans to talk in depth with Guite and assistant coach Alfie Michaud as he starts putting together his coaching staff. He expects there to be several other candidates.
UMaine registered a 103-137-32 record in eight seasons under Gendron, who was named the Hockey East Coach of the Year in 2020.
UMaine, which has 18 NCAA Tournament appearances, 11 Frozen Fours along with the two NCAA titles to its credit, hasn’t qualified for the NCAA Tournament or reached the Hockey East semifinals since 2011-12.