Before his eight-year stint as head coach at the University of Maine, Red Gendron was an assistant for two NCAA championship teams – Maine in 1993 and Yale in 2013. Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

University of Maine men’s hockey coach Dennis “Red” Gendron, who recently completed his eighth season as the Black Bears’ head coach, died Friday after a medical emergency at Penobscot Valley Country Club in Orono. He was 63.

Gendron had a long and successful career as a coach at almost every level from high school to the NHL. His connections with UMaine go back to the early 1990s when he was an assistant coach under Shawn Walsh and helped the Black Bears win their first NCAA championship in 1993.

Sgt. Peter Wentworth of the Orono Police Department said that Gendron was stricken when he was at the golf course and that the Orono Fire Department sent an ambulance. Wentworth said neither the police nor the fire department is allowed to provide details about a medical call. Messages left at the country club Friday night were not returned.

George Jacobson, a retired UMaine professor, said he ran into Gendron on the golf course at Penobscot Valley around 1 p.m. Friday.

Jacobson and his playing partner, Rich Powell, were both on the search committee that recommended hiring Gendron.

“He looked great, he was cheerful and in good spirits,” Jacobson said. A few hours later, he learned that Gendron had died when it was announced on a radio broadcast of a University of Maine baseball game.

“I was just stunned,” he said.

The university did not release a cause of death.

“We are shocked and deeply saddened by Red’s sudden death,” University of Maine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy said in a news release. “He was a force in UMaine Athletics and in the legacy of our men’s ice hockey program. We mourn his passing and remember his many contributions to the generations of players he mentored and to the program that lit up Black Bear Nation and the state of Maine. Our thoughts are with his wife, Janet, daughters Katelyn and Allison, his coaching staff and players. They have our support and respect for their privacy during this difficult time.”

UMaine Director of Athletics Ken Ralph echoed Ferrini-Mundy’s sentiments.

“Words cannot express our deep sadness from the tragic, sudden loss of Red Gendron,” Ralph said in the release. “Our community and the entire UMaine Athletics family mourn the loss of Coach Gendron and we ask you all to keep him, his family, his friends, and our hockey staff and student-athletes in your thoughts through this agonizing time.”

Gendron’s death shocked his friends and associates at the university and beyond. UMaine men’s basketball coach Richard Barron wrote on Twitter, “I assumed we had many more stories to share and so much more we could learn from each other.”

Gendron also was fondly remembered by former UMaine players.

Cal Ingraham, a star forward from 1991-94, called it “a tough day for UMaine,” and said Gendron was “through and through, Maine hockey.”

“I think of him as kind of a fun-loving guy, always kind of joking a bit, throwing jabs at people,” he said. “Always laughing, always smiling. When I knew him, he was maybe sort of the buffer between Walshie and all of us, playing that role a bit. Just a guy you loved to hang around with.”

Mike Latendresse, who was at Maine from 1992-94, said Gendron played a key role in drawing him to Orono. Gendron spoke French, which helped Latendresse, a Montreal native, feel at ease.

“Red was great for me, phenomenal,” said Latendresse, now an assistant coach at Colby College. “He was just an honest guy, and very fiery, especially when he was younger. Even later, even now, I think he still had that edge as a coach. … (He was) somebody that made me want to play for him.

“He was awesome to be around. A great guy, and someone I will miss.”

University of Massachusetts coach Greg Carvel reacted to Gendron’s death at a news conference for Saturday’s NCAA championship game between UMass and St. Cloud State. Gendron coached against Carvel in recent seasons and was an assistant at Massachusetts from 2005-11 before Carvel arrived.

“On a personal level, Red, more than any coach in Hockey East, really reached out to me and really took me in when I came into the league and we had a real nice friendship,” Carvel said. “He was great for college hockey. He was just a big, loving personality that, when he walked into the room, the energy just went to him.”

The UMass Hockey twitter account called Gendron a “teacher, mentor and friend.”

Gendron was part of multiple championship coaching staffs during a career that began in 1979 as an assistant at his alma mater, Berlin High in New Hampshire.

In the high school ranks, he led Bellows Free Academy to four Vermont state championships.

Gendron joined Walsh’s staff at Maine in 1990 and helped guide the team that went 42-1-2 on the way to the 1993 NCAA championship.

“I do remember when he first came on board … he was just a workaholic. Such great enthusiasm, great work ethic. He had such a love for the sport,” said Joe Clark, a goalie consultant and an Augusta native who coached alongside Gendron on Maine’s 1993 team.

“He never lost his passion for the game. I have great memories of working with him. He was very dedicated. He fit in very well with Shawn Walsh because of his attention to detail at such a high level.”

Colby men’s hockey coach Blaise MacDonald met Gendron when they were coaching adversaries nearly 30 years ago, with MacDonald an assistant at Boston University and Gendron at Maine.

“In the early to mid-1990s, when BU and Maine were juggernauts, we had a very exciting and competitive relationship,” MacDonald said. “This is just hard to put in words. I’m shocked, saddened. I am grateful to have had a close relationship with him. My heart pours out to his loving wife and daughters.”

Gendron also helped Yale win the 2013 NCAA title as an associate head coach before taking over at Maine.

“College hockey lost an absolute giant in the game today,” Hockey East Commissioner Steve Metcalf said. “Red was a coach, mentor, colleague and friend to so many. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and his team.”

In the professional ranks, he helped the New Jersey Devils win three Stanley Cups, serving as an assistant coach with the Devils in 1995 and as an assistant and head coach with New Jersey’s AHL team in Albany when the Devils repeated as NHL champions in 2000 and 2003.

When Gendron came back to Maine as head coach on May 28, 2013, it was hoped that his pedigree and ties to the Walsh era would return the Black Bears to Hockey East and national prominence. Maine went 16-15-4 in his first season, but the Black Bears had only two other winning seasons during his tenure.

Mark Anthoine of Lewiston was a senior captain during Gendron’s first season as head coach.

“I had sort of an idea who he was and he had such good success at all different levels,” Anthoine said. “He came in our senior year, it could have been a very scary thing … (but he) was great, he did a phenomenal job. He was as hard on us seniors as he was with the freshmen. I had so many good memories of him.”

Jamie Gilbert, another Lewiston native, played at UMass from 2004-07 when Gendron was an assistant for the Minutemen. He praised Gendron not only for his hockey acumen, but also for how he related to players.

“He was a player’s coach, you (could) joke with him,” Gilbert said. “I can remember he always had good comebacks and put us in our place. I do remember those moments.”

After returning to Maine, Gendron showed his devotion to the university by announcing in December 2014 that he was donating 5 percent of his salary to help create an endowment for the hockey program called the Grant Stanbrook Forever Hockey Fund.

In 2019-20, Maine went 18-11-5 and finished the season ranked No. 15 in the country, a high-water mark during Gendron’s tenure. Gendron was named Hockey East Coach of the Year, but the Black Bears were denied a chance to qualify for the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012 when the remainder of the season was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic before Maine could host Connecticut in the Hockey East quarterfinals.

Gendron also was chosen by his fellow Division I coaches as a finalist last season for the Spencer Penrose Award, given to the nation’s top coach.

Overall, Maine went 103-130-32 under Gendron.

Larry Cockrell joined the UMaine staff this past season as a volunteer assistant. He didn’t know Gendron well going in, but quickly grew to admire him.

“It’s crushing news,” he said. “The man had so much knowledge about the game, and that’s important, but (he was) a very genuine person. He gave me a lot of responsibility, a lot of opportunity to grow. He was quick to give me feedback, he was quick to tell me when I need to be better. … I walked into the opportunity not knowing what to expect, but he treated me like a regular coach.”

This season’s COVID-disrupted campaign ended with 3-11-2 record and a first-round loss to New Hampshire in the Hockey East playoffs. Gendron’s contract was set to expire in June.

Press Herald Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy, Press Herald Assistant Sports Editor Bob Aube, Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Drew Bonifant and Sun Journal Staff Writer Nathan Fournier contributed to this report.

 

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