One characteristic of a successful coach is the ability to make in-game adjustments.
“Coaches have to make adjustments themselves,” Messalonskee hockey coach Mike Latendresse said. “You have to do different things for different players. Every year your coaching ways change. They change from one team to the other. You have to make adjustments. If you are not making them, you are not doing your job.”
Latendresse led the Eagles to a second consecutive Eastern B championship, this time with a much different team. Messalonskee dominated Eastern B from start to finish and earned its first top seed in program history.
For leading the Eagles back to the Class B state title game, Latendresse has been named the Morning Sentinel Hockey Coach of the Year.
“I know he’s the best coach I’ve ever had,” said Messalonskee junior captain Chase Cunningham, who led the team with 74 points. “Nobody knows the game like him. I know we all respect him.”
Last season Latendresse guided a veteran team to the regional final. Seniors Sam Dexter, Nate DelGiudice and Travis St. Pierre powered that Messalonskee team.
Things changed this season. Sure, Cunningham returned but the Eagles relied on several fresh faces to play key roles. They started two freshmen defensemen, a first-year starting goalie and some newcomers up front.
“One of the major things was the quality of players we lost the year before,” Latendresse said. “We lost a lot of talent. I had to get this team to come together. That was my main challenge. One of my biggest goals I ask of the team is to improve every time you step on the ice. You need to get better. My job was to teach them what we were looking for them to do. The new guys, they made my job easier because they stepped right in.”
Expectations were also high for the Eagles, who were coming off their first regional title in program history. Latendresse said he tried to keep those expectations in check.
“In my mind, we were not the clear favorites coming in,” Latendresse said. “I felt we would be in the mix. We never worried about that stuff. We went into this season with a similar approach as the last one.”
But things changed when the Eagles ripped off eight consecutive wins to open the season. If they weren’t clear-cut favorites to open the season, they certainly were at the season’s midpoint.
“We became the favorites maybe midway through the season,” Latendresse said. “We wanted to go back to where we were last year. We knew there were teams out there that were better than us. We just kept working hard.”
Latendresse said he is usually demanding of his players but altered his approach with such a young team this season.
“Maybe my intensity was a little different,” he said. “Intensity is still a big part of how I coach, but with such a young team maybe I toned it down at times.”
Added Cunningham: “He expects a lot out of all of us but that is good. He knows what he is doing. He comes up with stuff in practice when we are like, ‘Where did you come up with that?’ He’s just a great coach to play for.”
Bill Stewart — 621-5640