University of Maine men’s hockey coach Red Gendron watches the action during a game last season at Alfond Arena in Orono. Gendron died Friday. He was 63. Photo provided by UMaine athletics

There are things you don’t think about until unfortunately, they are gone. In the hours since I learned of the death of University of Maine men’s ice hockey coach Red Gendron, who died Friday afternoon, I’ve thought about him a lot. I realize, for almost as long as I’ve been a fan of ice hockey, or in more recent years covered the sport, Gendron was there.

Last fall, I interviewed Gendron over the phone for a story on the uncertainties facing college hockey in preparing for a season in the midst of a pandemic. Before we began talking about his Black Bears and Hockey East’s plans for the season, I told Gendron I remembered him from his days as coach of the Bellows Free Academy boys ice hockey team in St. Albans, Vermont. Gendron paused.

“How the hell do you remember me from BFA?”

Because in 1988, I was a sophomore at Rutland’s Mt. St. Joseph Academy, and I was in the stands at the University of Vermont’s Gutterson Fieldhouse when Gendron’s Bobwhites beat MSJ 2-1 in overtime in the Vermont Division I state championship game. MSJ was coming off back-to-back Division II state crowns and in Division I with the powerhouses like BFA for the first time. Gendron’s team was defending state champ, but lost John LeClair — who went on to an outstanding NHL career with the Montreal Canadiens, Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins — to graduation. So we thought our team — with three guys who went on to get drafted by NHL teams and another drafted into the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League — had a good shot. Now, 32 1/2 years later, Gendron remembered the game vividly.

“You guys had the best line in the state. But we were deeper.”

He was right. That depth won the Bobwhites the game.

I began college as a freshman at the University of Maine in the fall of 1990, the same time Gendron moved on from BFA to become an assistant coach on Shawn Walsh’s UMaine hockey staff. I followed the Black Bears like so many other students, but took added satisfaction in the fact that one of the coaches guiding the team along shared the same small Vermont experience as myself.

In 1999, I took my first journalism job in Berlin, New Hampshire. I found out later, Berlin is Gendron’s hometown. With apologies to places like Waterville, Lewiston, or even St. Albans, the Berlin of Gendron’s youth was northern New England’s ice hockey capitol. Two high schools in the city regularly won state and New England championships. By the time I got to Berlin, the paper mill that was the city’s heart was fading, but hockey was still Berlin’s passion, and it’s easy to see how Gendron’s love for the game was planted and nurtured.

Gendron’s life in hockey took him from Orono to the New Jersey Devils, where he got his name engraved on the Stanley Cup twice as an assistant coach, and that’s the coolest thing that can happen to anyone in hockey. Your hard work is immortalized in silver. In the mid-2000s, Gendron was back in college hockey, first at UMass, then at Yale, where he helped coached the Elis to the national championship in 2013.

Red Gendron instructs his players during a 2015 practice at the Cross Insurance Arena. Portland Press Herald file photo

He returned to UMaine in 2013 as head coach. Gendron was always a teacher first, and that’s why he was more suited for the college game. Gendron was focused as much as preparing his players for life as he was the next game.

In early January, Gendron discussed the upcoming games at Vermont in a Zoom meeting with media. I asked him, does playing at Gutterson Fieldhouse spark memories of how this coaching journey started?

“Obviously, that seems like a lifetime ago, when I coached high school hockey in St. Albans, Vermont. Every time I walk into that building, I wouldn’t be a human being if I didn’t think back to that. Mostly, the people I worked with there, the players who are middle aged men now, some of the teachers and coaches I worked with in different sports. I coached not only hockey, but football and baseball back then. There are good feelings, but the best feelings I remember are games I’ve been involved in at the college level where we won games there. Those are the things that are the most important to me now. I do have little moments of reflection there, especially if I’m in the building and it’s long before the game, there’s nobody in there. Once we approach game time, I’m not thinking about anything other than what the task at hand is that day.”

Gendron accomplished a lot in his life, but he wasn’t ready to sit back and bask in it yet. It was a pleasure to follow and cover Gendron’s career for 33 years, and the abrupt end of Gendron’s life leaves a hole.

Often, when in thanks for his time, Gendron would reply with “OK, bud.” It was a simple statement full of respect. That sentiment was mutual.

Goodbye, bud.

 

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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