Scarborough High is looking for a new boys’ hockey coach after the recent departure of Norm Gagne, the winningest coach in Maine history. But the search for a nearby ice rink may have greater urgency for the future of the school’s hockey programs.
“Until more rinks are built, it’s going to continue to be a struggle,” said Athletic Director Mike LeGage. “We’re in a situation where we have to ask, ‘Do we do this and try to make it work or do we not offer the sport of hockey?’ We’re really at that point.”
Last summer the Red Storm lost their rink – MHG Ice Arena in Saco – when ownership decided to convert the space into a multisport training facility. The boys’ and girls’ teams were forced to find a new home this winter at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston, more than 40 miles away.
Instead of practicing after school, the teams had to take ice time at odd hours. Players didn’t get home until about 11 p.m. some weeknights. As a result, Scarborough ended up not having the numbers to field a boys’ junior varsity team.
“Getting home really late and not having as much time to do school work or hang out with friends – it kind of took away from our personal life and made it too much like a pro hockey team,” said junior goalie Brandon Wasser. “It was a lot of back-and-forth. It’s hard to stay focused and be ready for games when you’re just drained from the practices.”
Hope was on the horizon in 2015 when a nonprofit group, Friends of Scarborough Hockey, worked with the Town Council to use municipal-owned land near the high school for a privately financed $5.5 million arena. The project never left the planning stages and was dropped when the group couldn’t raise the money, lacking major donors.
“It’s tough on families and it’s tough on our community,” LeGage said, “but we want to continue to offer the sport of ice hockey.”
There has been interest again in building a rink in Scarborough. Chuck Bradish, president of Scarborough Boys Hockey Boosters, said hockey is a “strong community presence” in Scarborough and the energy to solve the problem is there.
“We need ice – that’s plain and simple,” Bradish said. “I’ve had meetings over the last week with individuals who are looking to pick up the ball where some of us left it. … People are talking to me but until I actually see an official group formed, it’s a conversation.”
For now, the Red Storm plan to practice and play games in Lewiston again next season. Because of the travel, Wasser said he’s unsure whether he’ll go out for the team.
Gagne said his decision to leave Scarborough for Edward Little was unrelated to the struggle to find ice time.
“This is where my career started so I figured it was time to do it,” Gagne said of returning to Edward Little, his alma mater. “I love Scarborough. It was a privilege to be able to coach there. I felt like I was leaving the program in good hands with a good staff.”
Scarborough was a power during Gagne’s eight seasons as coach, winning the Class A state championship in 2015. This winter marked the first time in five years that the Red Storm didn’t advance to the regional championship game, falling to Cheverus 4-3 in the Class A South semifinals.
Wasser said he and his teammates didn’t see Gagne’s departure coming.
“A lot of them were really surprised and kind of bummed,” he said.
“All the players had their end-of-year meeting and no one mentioned it. Next thing you know, he’s going back to his old high school.”
Bradish said Gagne will be missed.
“Obviously, you look at a coach like Norm and you wish he could be around forever,” Bradish said. “He has done wonderful things for the programs – everything from his coaching ability to his work with the booster board and also bringing on new talent.”
LeGage said he has no timetable for hiring a new coach. Gagne is an advocate for Jake Brown, whom he called his “right-hand man,” who served as his assistant coach for seven years.
“Everyone has a special kind of bond with him,” Wasser said of Brown. “The way he talks to us like he’s on the team – he’s a great guy.”
Bradish, whose son was a senior on the squad, echoed this praise of Brown.
“Jake Brown has been a strong second voice on the team – the kids have loved him,” Bradish said.
“I think if we didn’t have Jake, it would be more devastating. Don’t get me wrong, though – we’re going to miss Norm. We’re going to miss Norm a lot.”
Taylor Vortherms can be contacted at 791-6417 or