Red Gendron was introduced as the new head coach for the storied University of Maine hockey program on May 28. It was a dream job for the former Stanley Cup and NCAA champion.
The New England College grad was a high school coach in Bellows Falls, Vermont before the legendary Maine coach Shawn Walsh gave him an opportunity that spearheaded his coaching career.
Gendron was an assistant coach for the 1993 Maine squad that went 42-1-2 and won the NCAA Championship. Following that season he left to take a job in the New Jersey Devils organization. Gendron was part of two Stanley Cup Champion teams before returning to the college game as an assistant at UMass and Yale. He won his second NCAA Championship this past April as an assistant to Keith Allain at Yale. Now 20 years later he's back in Orono and looking to return the Black Bears to national prominence.
Gendron's history in Orono is the reason for his passion for UMaine hockey. He wants to return the program to a level where the entire state of Maine can take pride in the state's flagship team.
"I'm obviously really excited to be back in Maine. It's a place where I got my start in college hockey back in the 90s. Orono is a wonderful place. There is absolutely no hockey program like it. The program really belongs to everyone in the local community and the entire state," said Gendron.
After several months of recruiting, doing paperwork and trying to rally support for the program by making stops throughout the state, Gendron is ready to get things rolling on his first season as a head coach at the collegiate level.
"I think we have a fine bunch of young players. We'll have a young team, but I think they're going to be excited. I think the players will work hard and compete hard. I'm really looking forward to good things from our kids this year."
Seniors Mark Anthoine and Brice O'Connor are equally eager to start their final season in Orono.
"We're all really excited. There are a lot of big changes to the program. I think it's going to be a good thing. We haven't hit the ice yet, but we're all anxious to get started," said Anthoine.
"We all have heard such great things about Coach Gendron, and with his resume, he's proven he can win at every level. You have to be excited for what he's going to bring to the table," added O'Connor.
Most players went home for some of the summer, so the team is back on campus with school starting last Tuesday. The team has started dry-land training and is beginning the process of becoming one cohesive unit.
"We've all been scattered throughout the summer so it's great to see the guys getting back on campus. We're excited to be back together as a team," said O'Connor.
"We're excited. We know [the coaches] are going to push us hard that first week, but we know that and we're ready," said O'Connor, of beginning preseason workouts.
The players knew that Gendron would push them hard once they got back on campus this fall. "Coach left the [summer workouts] up to us. We have to be responsible for our training. He expects us to be in shape. We understood that and knew if we didn't show up in shape we wouldn't be playing," said O'Connor.
Anthoine and O'Connor are enthusiastic about being senior leaders on a team that will usher in a new era of UMaine hockey. "It's crazy. It feels like we were just freshman, but it's exciting that we're now seniors and get to be leaders of the team. Hopefully we'll be able to mold the young guys into being leaders themselves," said Anthoine.
Anthoine discussed the importance of the team being together and having one goal. "This year our mentality is going to be having everyone on the same level. As seniors, we can help guide them, but we want to be on the same level as a team. We want to do everything as a team and forget about senior, junior, sophomore, freshman," said Anthoine.
"I think it's an honor to be his first class of seniors. He was here when Maine got put on the map. He was a big part of it, and we're excited to help bring things back," added O'Connor.
For Anthoine, a Maine native, nothing would be sweeter than finishing his Maine career with a successful season. And there would be a lot of people across the entire state anxious to get behind the Black Bears again.
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Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, as well as NHL Draft prospects for SBNation. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSBNation.