University of Maine assistant Ben Guite, left, listens to head coach Red Gendron during a game last season. Guite was named interim coach of the men’s hockey program Wednesday. Mark Tutuny photo

The University of Maine has turned to a familiar face to lead its men’s hockey program.

UMaine athletic director Ken Ralph announced Wednesday that assistant coach Ben Guite will serve as interim head coach.

The announcement comes after head coach Red Gendron died April 9 after a medical emergency at Penobscot Valley Country Club in Orono. Gendron, 63, had just wrapped up his eighth season leading the program.

“We are fortunate to have someone of Ben Guite’s experience and character to guide our program through this difficult time,” Ralph said in a statement. “Ben is a Black Bear alum, a national champion, played in the National Hockey League, and has established himself as one of the top assistant coaches in college hockey. More importantly, there is no one who cares more about the University of Maine and the success of its hockey program.”

In a Zoom conference with reporters on Wednesday, Guite said he is supporting his players as they mourn the loss of Gendron while also looking ahead to the future.

“We’re making sure everyone needs to get what they need to deal with this, to grieve Red in their own way,” Guite said. “At the same time, we’ve got to provide some direction for our program. It’s a time for our kids and their families to stop and assess the void Red has left in their life, but at the same time, our program needs to keep going. The world of hockey is not going to stop with this. We’ve got to remain competitive. It’s a step that needed to be made in order to make sure we’re ready for next season and that our guys are ready to compete when the time comes.”

Guite added that he’d like to lead the program into next season and beyond. However, when asked about the school’s long-term plans for the position, he deferred to Ralph.

Ralph was unavailable for comment Wednesday.

Assistant coach Ben Guite at the Alfond Arena in Orono. Guite, an assistant under the late Red Gendron, was named interim head coach of the men’s hockey program Wednesday. Michael C. York photo

“I’m the interim for the time being,” Guite said. “I’m entering with my mind that I’m going in and preparing our team for next year and coach it for as long as they tell me I’m the interim.”

Guite, 42, has strong ties to the Black Bears. He was a member of the 1999 UMaine team that won the national championship under the late Shawn Walsh.

Guite scored the first goal in a 3-2 overtime victory over rival New Hampshire in the title game. A forward, Guite scored 47 goals and 49 assists in his UMaine career. He led the Black Bears in goals (22) and finished with 36 points as a senior during the 1999-2000 season.

“It’s an honor (to coach). To be here as a young kid, an 18-year old, to come in at Maine and had the experience I had. And to lead the program, with the interim tag now, it’s an honor and a roller coaster of emotions with everything that’s happened. But I’m very grateful for the confidence that’s been instilled in me.”

A Montreal native, Guite joined the UMaine staff as an assistant coach in 2013. He was promoted to associate head coach in 2015.

“As a player here at Maine, (Guite) was an extraordinary leader and national champion, combined with both excellence in the community and his academic endeavors,” Gendron said in a statement after hiring Guite. “He has had an exceptional professional career and now he returns to the program that he loves as deeply as any Maine hockey player who’s ever played here.”

Ben Guite is the interim men’s hockey coach at the University of Maine. University of Maine athletics

Guite would go on to play 175 games in the National Hockey League, debuting with the Boston Bruins during the 2005-2006 season. He would also play for the Colorado Avalanche (2006-2009) and the Nashville Predators (2009-2010). Guite had 19 goals and 26 assists during his NHL career. He also played in 585 games in the American Hockey League during his career, with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, Cincinnati Mighty Ducks, Providence Bruins, Albany River Rats, Milwaukee Admirals, Springfield Falcons and Worcester Sharks. Guite had 103 goals and 176 assists in his AHL tenure.

The Black Bears finished eighth in Hockey East this season, going 3-11-2. They lost seven of their final nine games, including a 7-2 loss to UNH in the opening round of the Hockey East tournament.

Guite said the team needs to improve defensively after it ranked last in Hockey East in goals allowed per game (4.25). Offensively, Guite added that he will allow his players to be more creative on the ice. The Black Bears were 10th in Hockey East in scoring last season (43 goals and 74 assists for 117 points).

“I’m a younger coach, I’m more modern,” Guite said. “I think our style of play, it will be different. There’s going to be a little more creativity allowed on the offensive side of things. They’ll be encouraged to take risk at times. Don’t get me wrong, you look at the Frozen Four, all four of those teams, they played hard defensively, so that doesn’t change. If you want to win championships, that’s what you’ve got to be. But at the same time, I want to push our guys to be a little more creative and try different things.”

NOTES: During his news conference, Guite said he expects senior captain Jack Quinlivan to return for a fifth season. Guite said he’s also talked with forward Emil Westerlund, as well as defensemen JD Greenway and Cameron Spicer, about returning for a fifth year. The NCAA granted an extra year of eligibility for student-athletes because of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

“All those guys will be welcomed back, we’d love to have them,” Guite said. “They’re tremendous additions to our team, on and off the ice. They’re all great leaders in their own right and they make us a much better team.”

Dave Dyer — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Dave_Dyer

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