February 25, 2010

Ever the motivator, and still the coach

KEVIN THOMAS

— By

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Staff Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette: Scarborough hockey coach Norm Gagne watches over his teams practice Friday, Dec. 4, 2009 in Saco.

click image to enlarge

Staff Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette: Scarborough hockey coach Norm Gagne talks with players as they stretch at the start of practice Friday, Dec. 4, 2009 in Saco.

Staff Writer

SACO — The players took a knee, eyes focused on the man with the clipboard.

''I don't want to waste time,'' he said, going over the practice schedule.

And no time was wasted as the Scarborough boys' hockey team went through its drills at the MHG Ice Centre.

Then a whistle. It was the man again.

''Hey,'' he barked, the voice gravelly and lively. ''Good passes. And communicate. I want to hear you.''

And the Red Storm players passed better and called out to their teammates.

It's a simple rule for any high school hockey player. Norm Gagne speaks, and you listen.

Gagne, 65, has taken over the Scarborough program, his fifth school in this, his 36th year of coaching.

The record speaks for itself: a combined 562-225-20 and six state championships. His last job, at Lewiston High, featured three state title game appearances from 2006 to '08.

Gagne left Lewiston on a sour note -- a bitter disagreement about parents' input into his coaching style -- and surfaced as a coach on Jay Mazur's staff at Scarborough last year.

When Mazur left to become the Scarborough Middle School athletic director in October, Gagne was hired last month as the Red Storm's head coach.

Among the coaches on Gagne's staff will be Jeff Libby, the former pro player who had starred at the University of Maine and Waterville High (Class of 1992) when Gagne was head coach.

''What I remember is it being a lot of fun,'' Libby said. ''He's very enthusiastic, as he is to this day, about what he does.

''It was fun but disciplined. We knew our place.''

Although Gagne officially retired as a teacher when he left Waterville in 2004, he has continued in the classroom. He was teaching at Lewiston High when he got the Scarborough head-coaching job.

Gagne's first request was a teaching post at Scarborough. There was none available, so Gagne took a job as an education technician (ed tech).

''I do a little bit of everything,'' Gagne said. ''I fill in for a teacher here and there. If they need a long-term sub, they may put me in. I do the study halls.

''But it was important to be in the school. I've always been at the school.''

On campus, Gagne can monitor his players, checking on their grades and conduct. It's what Gagne has always done.

''He's got his kids' best interest at heart at all times,'' Libby said.

Gagne began coaching at Gardiner High in 1974. After coaching the Tigers to three straight titles, he did the same thing for Waterville.

When Gagne retired from Waterville in 2004, he knew he wasn't done coaching. Che-verus hired him as a co-coach with Jack Lowry, but Gagne eventually backed out before the season, figuring it would not work out. Instead, Gagne became the head coach at Gorham High. That lasted one season.

''Then Lewiston gave me a ring,'' Gagne said.

There, his teams won three straight Eastern Class A titles, but lost in the state final each year, first to Cheverus, then twice to Biddeford.

But after the third season, Gagne said the school presented him with an evaluation of his performance that included complaints from parents. Gagne did not sign the evaluation and was not rehired.

''The way it ended was poor,'' Gagne said. ''But I wasn't going to let them dictate to me on the way the program was going to be run. When you take a disgruntled few and write that into an evaluation ''

So Gagne landed in Scarborough, a growing area full of hockey players. It's the kind of place where Gagne can make his mark.

''I love the competition,'' he said. ''Number one, I can't play anymore and this is the next best thing. And I'm tickled to death when I see my kids be successful at what I taught them.

''I think I motivate kids. That's always been one of my strengths, to motivate, whether it's in the classroom or on the ice.

''It keeps me young. I feel good. I'm healthy and I'm enjoying every minute of it.''

Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at:

kthomas@pressherald.com

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