When he was a young assistant coach at Union College in New York, one of the first junior hockey coaches that new University of Maine men’s coach Ben Barr met was Jason Fortier.
One of the players Barr would eventually recruit for the University of Massachusetts was defenseman Mario Ferraro, who played for Fortier from 2014 to 2015. Ferraro went on to captain the Minutemen and went straight from UMass to the NHL’s San Jose Sharks.
Now Barr and Fortier will be looking for recruits like Ferraro together, since Fortier was named the new assistant coach for the UMaine team. The two coaches say they have the same philosophies.
“Everybody who has played for Jason loves him. He knows everyone in the hockey world and has connections everywhere,” Barr said. “He is a hockey guru.”
Fortier, Barr and returning assistant Alfie Michaud will try to return a program to a level of prominence that produced two NCAA championships, 11 Frozen Four appearances and 18 berths in the NCAA Tournament. UMaine hasn’t reached the Hockey East semifinals or earned an NCAA Tournament tourney appearance since the 2011-12 season.
The new assistant coach has an extensive background. Fortier was the British Columbia Junior Hockey League Coach of the Year when he was with Coquitlam for the 2019-20 season. The Ontario native spent the last season coaching the Odessa (Texas) Jackalopes in the North American Hockey League. He was also the general manager.
He also said the fact Barr has recruited players for three NCAA championship teams at Union, UMass and Providence College made an attractive job even more enticing.
“I’m extremely excited,” he said.
Fortier is replacing Ben Guite, who was the assistant and then the associate head coach under the late Red Gendron, who died unexpectedly on April 9. Guite is now the head coach of the ECHL’s Maine Mariners.
Two seasons ago as coach and general manager, Fortier guided Coquitlam to a 47-9 record and the league regular season championship. The Express was undefeated in the playoffs heading into the divisional finals but the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the rest of the season.
Fortier took over as head coach at Coquitlam midway through the 2017-18 season after two years as an assistant coach at the Major Junior level with the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League in 2016-17 and the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He has also coached at the under-18 level and ran Ontario’s largest NCAA College Hockey Showcase from 2011-14.
More than 100 players coached by Fortier have gone on to play Division I hockey — including 44 from the past three seasons. Fortier said he has developed a number of Canadian contacts that will help UMaine’s recruiting.
“Alfie (Michaud) has done a great job finding players who are the right fit for the program and Ben and I want to add to it,” Fortier said.
Barr pointed out that Fortier has been a winner at virtually all of his stops and his players improved noticeably under his tutelage. Fortier has seven championship rings and is passionate about developing players to reach their full potential.
He was a high-scoring left wing in the Canadian junior hockey ranks before playing professional hockey in Germany and The Netherlands and returning to North America to play for the Wichita Thunder of the Central Hockey League and at Sault College and Humber College.
Fortier cited a number of other reasons why the job is so attractive, including a storied hockey history, support from students and the community and the $90 million gift to the university from the Harold Alfond Foundation for improvements to athletic facilities, of which $20 million will go toward upgrading the 45-year-old Alfond Arena.
“It’s nice that the university and community care about the program as much as we do,” he said.