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Ben Barr named new UMaine men's hockey coach

The former associate head coach at the University of Massachusetts will now lead the Black Bears after former head coach Red Gendron died in April

ORONO, Maine — After a near two-week interview process, the University of Maine has announced its newest men's ice hockey head coach.

Ben Barr will be the fifth Black Bear coach of the modern era. 

There will be an introductory press conference hosted at 2 p.m. Wednesday where Barr will be available for questions from reporters.

The move to find a new head coach came unexpectedly as former head coach Red Gendron died due to a medical emergency in April.

Former Black Bear star and assistant coach Ben Guite took over as the interim head coach but was not named as the official head coach. 

"We are thrilled to welcome Ben Barr to the University of Maine," UMaine Athletic Director Ken Ralph said in a release.

"He brings with him an amazing track record of success in collegiate hockey. In a very competitive field of candidates, Ben stood alone with his comprehensive plan for building and sustaining success for UMaine hockey."

Barr comes to Orono after five years at the University of Massachusetts Amherst where, most recently,  he was the Associate Head Coach. He served as the recruiting coordinator and defensive coach for the Minutemen who just captured the program's first NCAA National Championship.

"Being named the fifth head coach of the Maine Black Bears is an incredible honor and very humbling," Barr said in the release. "There is a tremendous sense of responsibility and pride from all of the student-athletes and coaches that have passed through this program, and we will bring that passion with us as we build a program which reflects the values of the State and the University of Maine."

Ralph introduced Barr as the new head coach in a virtual press conference Wednesday afternoon. Ralph admitted Barr was the number one choice going into the coaching search.

The two met nearly 20 years ago at Rochester Polytechnic Institute where Barr played hockey and served as the team captain his senior year and Ralph was the Athletic Director. 

“He was special then, you could just see that, some people just have that quality about them," Ralph said. “We want to start filling that trophy case back up again and we needed a guy that has a track record of building programs back to the point where we’re carrying some hardware around campus.”

One of the reasons that make Barr special, Ralph said, is his ability to recruit. Many in the college hockey world told Ralph Barr is the best recruiter in college hockey.

The proof?

Barr has recruited, coached, and mentored 26 players who went on to play in the NHL, 13 All-Americans, and four Hobey Baker Award Finalists, and Cale Makar, who won that award in 2019 and is now one of the best defensemen in the NHL.

The first time head coach signed a four-year contract with UMaine. Ralph added there is a provision that's built into the contract that adds two years with a winning record in Hockey East.

Good news for Barr as he admits his "formula" will grow into its final form overnight.

 “We’re not going to talk about winning a national championship tomorrow, we’re going to talk about building a national championship culture and program, and hopefully in a few years, we put ourselves in a position to compete for those championships, Hockey East championships, national championships," he said.

Barr said he spoke to the team Wednesday morning and by the afternoon most of the players reached out to him personally. He added the culture of the program starts with the guys in the locker room on day one of his tenures.

“And that’s when we can really accomplish special things," he added

The 2020-21 UMass title run is not the first time Barr coached on the biggest stage of college hockey. In 2019, the Minuteman also made an appearance in the Frozen Four. Barr has been behind the bench for four NCAA tournament runs, the two with UMass, one with Union College in 2011, and one with Providence College in 2014.

 Prior to college, Barr skated at the traditional powerhouse Shattuck-St. Mary’s Prep School where he graduated in 2000.

 When Ralph gave details of the coaching search last month in a virtual press conference, he said the new hire will be in it for the long haul. Black Bears are used to head coaches sticking around in Orono for years as the late Red Gendron was behind the bench for eight seasons before he died from a medical emergency in April.

Prior to Gendron, Tim Whitehead was the head coach for 12 seasons from 2001-02 to 2012-13. In those 12 seasons, Whitehead leads the Black Bears to four Frozen Four appearances and two National Championships.

For 17 years Black Bear legend Shawn Walsh coached the program, bringing UMaine into the national college hockey spotlight. He took over in the 1984-85 season and captured two national championships in 1993 and 1999.

The all-time wins leader in program history collected four Hockey East coach of the year awards. Walsh died from cancer in 2011. The Shawn Walsh Hockey Center.

Black Bear fans have been used to trips to the Hockey East finals and NCAA tournament, but since 2012, the program has not returned to the conference quarterfinal round.

In 2020, UMaine was scheduled to host the University of Connecticut at the Harold Alfond Arena for the program's first quarterfinal matchup in eight seasons. But the COVID-19 pandemic forced Hockey East and the NCAA to cancel all winter sports championships just one day before the first of a three-game series was set to begin.

Barr admitted the Alfond might be the toughest rinks to play in college hockey, especially when the team is playing well.

“We hope the Alfond is a place where teams know they’re going to come in and it’s going to be next to impossible to win," he added.

Barr will get his first taste of this side of Black Bear nation when the team begins preseason workouts this summer.