SACO — The head coach really didn’t expect to spend his working life standing behind a hockey bench.

The assistant never had any doubt.

Now here they are together for a third time, two guys from Massachusetts – Tom Rowe from Lynn and Scott Allen from New Bedford. They come to Maine after sharing success a decade ago in Lowell, Massachusetts, and last season in San Antonio.

When paired behind the bench, Rowe and Allen have won 90 games, lost 52 in regulation and 14 in overtime or by shootout.

Rowe, the new head coach of the Portland Pirates, enjoyed a decent NHL career playing for three teams (Washington, Hartford, Detroit). He earned some fame in 1979 with the Capitals by becoming the first American-born player to score at least 30 goals in a season.

Upon retirement in 1984, Rowe spent eight years away from the game. He settled outside of Hartford and found a job in sales: collectible figurines, giftware, furniture.

“I even sold dolls,” he said. “I had a big account here in Portland, Maine. I can’t remember the name of it, but it was a toy store and they sold dolls.”

A former Red Wings teammate, Jim Rutherford, drew Rowe back into hockey as an assistant general manager for the Hartford Whalers. Rowe spent three years on the business side of the game and toyed with the idea of becoming a general manager himself. Then Rutherford asked him to consider becoming an assistant coach with the franchise’s AHL affiliate (the Whalers relocated to North Carolina in 1997) in Lowell.

“I found myself in coaching, which I never thought I would do,” said Rowe, 59. “But I love it. It’s great. Seeing the guys get better, coming in with a plan to help them get better. Once the games start, it’s a test of everything you try to teach them during the week.”

Rowe spent three years as an assistant to Ron Smith, a former schoolteacher who was briefly head coach of the New York Rangers, and learned how to break down video and conduct a practice. After Smith retired, Rowe became the head coach and Lowell took on another affiliate, the Calgary Flames, who sent Allen as an assistant.

‘WE JUST CLICKED’

“We just clicked right out of the gate,” Rowe said. “We balance each other really well. He’s incredibly good at teaching.”

Allen, 49, played professional hockey for a decade but never reached the AHL, much less the NHL.

“I had to work hard for everything that I got because I had very limited skills,” Allen said. “But I always knew that I wanted to coach. I wasn’t one of those guys who got to the end of playing and said, ‘Well, what am I going to do now?’ ”

From the time Allen left high school to play junior hockey, he studied coaches, good and bad, in hockey and other sports. He worked hockey camps each summer along with other odd jobs. His transition in 1996 from playing to coaching was seamless and eventually led to an NHL assistant job with the New York Islanders.

Twice in the minor leagues Allen was an assistant on a team that included Mike McKenna, the veteran goaltender whose decision to sign with the Florida Panthers (and likely return to Portland) was influenced by Allen’s presence.

“Playing for Scotty again was a huge part of this,” McKenna said, “because I think he’s not just a top-notch coach but a top-notch guy in the game. He’s one of the people who I’ve always held in the highest regard.”

The Lowell team coached by Rowe and Allen went 47-27-0-6 and reached the second round of the 2005 AHL playoffs. Last season they guided San Antonio to a division title with a 45-23-0-8 slate but got swept in the first round.

“I remember playing San Antonio and they worked very hard,” said defenseman Brent Regner, a member of this year’s Pirates team and playing his seventh AHL season. He was captain of the Chicago Wolves last winter. “I think we’re going to be a physical team with quick puck movement and be hard to play against, especially in our own barn.”

Roughly half of the Pirates’ roster played for San Antonio last season, so they knew what to expect from Rowe and Allen. The new guys have been learning quickly. Some of them, such as McKenna and former Islanders center Rob Schremp – coming back to North America after four seasons playing professionally overseas – played for Allen previously.

“It’s an intelligent group,” Rowe said. “We’ve got really good veterans so they can police things. I want the team to eventually coach itself.”

Not that he and Allen won’t offer a suggestion every now and then. Despite their success together in the regular season, they’ve only gone 1-2 in playoff series. They would like to change that next spring on the road to a Calder Cup.

“Scott and I need to keep building on the foundation,” Rowe said, “keep tweaking things and working toward opening night, and then every month we’ve got to get better, that’s all.”