The University of Maine men’s hockey team, under first-year head coach Ben Barr, has had a familiar face on the ice as they began practicing this week.
Former Black Bear left winger Danny Perez has rejoined the program as the volunteer assistant coach.
Perez appeared in 115 games during his four-year career and had eight goals and 11 assists for 19 points from 2015 to 2019. The 6-foot-4, 205-pound Perez provided the Black Bears with a physical presence and a solid work ethic.
“It has been unbelievable so far. I’ve loved every minute of it,” said Perez, a native of Bloomfield, New Jersey. “I love it up here in Maine and at the University.”
Eight of Perez’s former teammates off the 2018-19 team are still with the program.
He said it was a “little weird at first” to be coaching his former teammates, but said they have embraced him and shown him respect which has made it a smooth transition.
Barr said the 27-year-old Perez has made an immediate impact.
“He has been great. He has a lot of energy, he is very knowledgeable and the guys respect him and like him,” Barr said. “He’s a good person.”
Barr, the former University of Massachusetts associate head coach, said UMass always had young volunteer assistant coaches who served an important role.
“It’s nice to have someone with high energy who can come in during the middle of the day and work with a player on his skills for 20 minutes,” Barr said.
Barr said he intends to use Perez in all aspects of coaching, with his primary focus being on skill development.
The process that brought Perez back to UMaine began in Odessa, Texas, where his younger brother, Stephen Perez, was playing for head coach Jason Fortier. Fortier is now assisting Barr at UMaine. The Odessa Jackalopes play in the North American Hockey League.
Barr let it be known they were looking for a volunteer assistant and Perez wound up in Orono.
Perez had been playing pro hockey but had been out of action for 10 months due to the pandemic and was trying to figure out his next move when the opportunity arose.
The way Barr, Fortier and Michaud see the game is “unmatched” and he intends to soak up their vast knowledge of the game, Perez said. They have set high standards for the players and will make the players accountable for their actions which will be beneficial in turning the program around.
UMaine has not qualified for the Hockey East semifinals since the 2011-12 season.
Perez will be job hunting soon since he is an unpaid assistant, but he doesn’t want the job to interfere with his coaching.
Barr said all of the players who were expected to return have done so and they have been enthusiastic and energetic.
“They are great kids. They want to prove to themselves, to each other and to the rest of [Hockey East] that they are better than people think they are,” the 39-year-old Barr said.
There are six newcomers including three transfers brought in by Barr in the person, including former Merrimack College defenseman Dominic Dockery, who had 3 goals and 16 assists in 108 career games; Robert Morris forward Grant Hebert (18 & 27 in 74 games); and Quinnipiac forward Matt Fawcett (4 & 5 in 34 games).
Nolan Renwick headlines the freshman class after he racked up 22 goals and 19 assists in 53 games for the Omaha Lancers of the prestigious United States Hockey League. Defenseman David Breazeale had 5 & 16 in 53 games for Shreveport in the North American Hockey League and captained the Mudbugs to the Robertson Cup title, and defenseman Tim Gould had a goal and five assists in 11 games for Amherst in the Maritime Junior Hockey League.
Renwick and Gould were recruited by the late Red Gendron and his staff. Breazeale was brought in by Barr and his assistants.
“Nolan has a chance to be a really good player,” Barr said. “David is a high character guy who also works very, very hard. Tim is a really smart player with a pretty good skill level.”
UMaine will play a 4 p.m. exhibition game against the visiting University of Prince Edward Island on Oct. 3 before opening the season at the University of Nebraska Omaha Oct 8-9.