Dennis “Red” Gendron was part of the University of Maine’s greatest hockey moment, the 1993 NCAA championship. Twenty years later, he’s returning to try to bring the program back to championship level.
Maine announced Monday afternoon that Gendron will be the Black Bears’ men’s ice hockey coach. He agreed to a four-year contract worth $205,000 per year.
In announcing the news, UMaine AD Steve Abbott called Gendron the “perfect fit” for Maine.
Gendron, 55, will be formally introduced at a press conference at 1 p.m. Tuesday at Alfond Arena. He becomes the fifth person to coach in the program’s 36-year history, following Jack Semler, Shawn Walsh and Tim Whitehead. Greg Cronin was an interim coach at the end of the ’95-96 season and the start of the ’96 season when Walsh was suspended by the NCAA for violations.
“I’m very positive about this hire,” said Abbott. “We were blessed with some great candidates, a very strong pool. But Red emerged quickly as being eminently qualified and a perfect fit for our university.”
While Abbott wouldn’t say who the other finalists were, three others were mentioned prominently in news reports: Mike Osiecki (former Ohio State head coach), Bob Corkum (interim Maine coach) and Jim Tortorella (New Hampshire assistant coach, former Maine goalie, former Colby College coach).
Gendron was hired for several factors, some of which were his familiarity with the program and his success.
Gendron was an assistant under Walsh for three years. He joined the program in 1991.
“His experience here played a huge role for one major reason,” said Abbott. “Red is extremely passionate and enthusiastic about Maine hockey and that’s because of his previous work here.
“He sees this place as the place that launched his career. He’s done some amazing things since he left here (in 1993) and he’s tracked that back to Maine.”
Gendron, who was not available for comment on Monday, said as much in a press release.
“All of the wonderful things that have happened to us since that time would not have been possible if not for the University of Maine, Shawn Walsh, Grant Standbrook, and all of the champion players and coaches who were part of our first Maine experience,” he said. “The energy and passion within and surrounding this program are inspiring and have not diminished in my absence.
“I am fully aware of what this program means to our current players, our alumni, the university and to our fans throughout the state, and I am equally aware of the championship-caliber results they demand from their Black Bears.”
Gendron has had coaching success at every level. Before coming to Maine, he led Bellows Free Academy, in St. Albans, Vt., to four state championships. After leaving Maine, he was part of three NHL Stanley Cup championships with the New Jersey Devils. The last two years, he has been the associate head coach at Yale University — and the Bulldogs won the NCAA championship last month.
Beyond that, said Maine President Paul Ferguson, Gendron brings a nice balance to the position.
“Our primary goal in this search was to find an individual who could bring the best balance to our men’s hockey program as a nationally competitive team on the ice and support our student-athletes’ preparation for the future based upon solid academic foundations,” Ferguson said in the press release. “We are so pleased to have found that individual in Red Gendron, who personifies that balance.”
Abbott said he initially spoke to Gendron on Friday, asking him if he would be interested in the job. When Gendron said he would, Abbott drew up a contract. It was presented to Gendron on Saturday. He returned it on Sunday — “with some suggestions,” said Abbott — and the two sides worked them out on Monday.
Mike Latendresse, who was a freshman forward on that 1993 Black Bears championship team, hailed Gendron’s hiring as a step forward for the program.
“Red just has a great hockey mind,” said Latendresse, now the head hockey coach at Messalonskee High in Oakland. “When the job opened, I thought we needed someone who knew the program and was well respected in the hockey community. Red will be phenomenal for the program.”
Latendresse said Gendron, who speaks French fluently, had a great impact on his career. When he was being recruited by Maine, Latendresse spoke very little English. Gendron provided an instant contact.
“He helped me develop as a player,” said Latendresse, who added that he spent countless hours in the video room with Gendron. “It’s such a great step to have him back around, to get the program back on track.”
Gendron’s predecessor, Whitehead, was fired on April 9 with one year remaining on his contract. He had been the head coach for 12 years, leading Maine to seven NCAA tournament appearances — but only one in the last six years. Maine finished 11-19-8 last winter.
Following the press conference on Tuesday, Maine will hold a small social at Alfond Arena. Then at 5 p.m., the school will hold a “Meet the Coach” event at Season’s Grille in Bangor.
Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at [email protected]