Ben Barr is a busy man these days.
The new University of Maine men’s hockey coach is balancing moving his family from western Massachusetts to their new home in Brewer, being a father to three children including infant twins, putting together his roster for the 2021-22 season and hiring a new full-time assistant coach.
Barr also conducts a weekly Zoom virtual session with his players, which he has found to be productive. He also is spending countless hours poring over video to get an accurate assessment of his players’ strengths and weaknesses.
“They’re real good kids. They care about the program and are committed to it,” Barr said. “I’ve been trying to communicate with everyone within the program.”
Barr hopes to restore the UMaine program to the level of prominence it had achieved while winning two NCAA championships (1993, 1999), qualifying for 11 Frozen Fours and competing in 18 NCAA Tournaments. The Black Bears have not reached the Hockey East semifinals or the NCAA Tournament since the 2011-12 season.
UMaine posted a 3-11-2 record during the 2020-21 season, which was abbreviated due to the COVID 19-pandemic.
The 39-year-old Barr, previously the associate head coach and recruiting coordinator at the University of Massachusetts, has already hired Alfie Michaud to stay on as an assistant coach. He said he has made an offer to someone to become the other full-time assistant.
Barr also hopes to land two transfer players.
“Alfie is a great person. He has done as good a job as any goalie coach in the country and he has a lot of recruiting connections in a lot of non-traditional areas like western Canada. That will really add a lot,” Barr said.
Barr believes in building a team from the goaltender out and he said he likes what he saw from freshman Victor Ostman last season.
At the top of his priority list is improving his defense corps. He said it is crucial to have mobile, well-rounded defensemen who can get the puck out of the defensive zone up to the forwards.
“We also need guys on the back end who have offensive skills,” Barr said.
“They don’t grow on trees.”
Barr said the athletes he brings in need to be versatile. If a recruit known for scoring comes in and isn’t as productive in college, he must nonetheless be a sound defensive player, also.
“You want to make sure you have players who can contribute,” he said. “We want to be able to slot people into different roles.”
Barr is a firm believer fostering healthy competition for playing time among team members.
“You have to have depth in your program,” he said. “Depth wins games.”
Barr, who recruited players who led UMass to its first NCAA championship last season, previously brought in players who helped Union College and Providence College to their first NCAA titles in 2014 and 2015, respectively.
He said there are a lot of subtleties to recruiting that may not be obvious and used the example of the Olympic-size ice sheet at UMass.
“People thought that we would need a lot of quicker guys because of our ice sheet. But that wasn’t the case,” Barr said. “What was really important on the bigger sheet was to have players who could keep the puck on their sticks, who could hold onto the puck longer.”
Barr is looking forward to moving to Brewer with wife Tara and their three kids and expects to be here in July. He believes it is important to get to know the other UMaine coaches, people at the university and folks in the community.
Barr intends to create a positive, confident culture in which the players believe that “if they do their jobs, they can expect to win games.”
“We want to take incremental steps every year,” he said.