May 15—Ben Barr said all the right things on Wednesday when he was introduced as the head men’s hockey coach at the University of Maine.
He thanked the right people: UMaine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy, athletic director Ken Ralph and the search committee. He also outlined his plan to return the program to a position of prominence in Division I college hockey.
Barr has an impressive resume. He spent the last five seasons as the associate head coach and recruiting coordinator at UMass, which won its first NCAA title last month and has played in the last two NCAA championship games.
UMass had never reached the Frozen Four until 2019.
Barr was hired primarily because of his recruiting prowess; Ralph said he is considered the best recruiter in the country.
Barr helped recruit players at Union College that led the ECAC school to its first two Frozen Four appearances in school history (2012, 2014) and its first NCAA title in 2014.
He had coached under Nate Leaman at Union and accompanied him to Providence for the 2012-13 season. His recruiting was an important factor in the Friars’ 2015 NCAA title in what was their first Frozen Four appearance since 1985.
Barr had left Providence before the 2014-15 season to go to Western Michigan where his recruiting helped transform an eight-win team during 2015-16 into a 22-win, NCAA tourney team the following season.
A top-notch recruiter is exactly what UMaine needs.
The late Red Gendron and his staff were able to recruit only four All-Hockey East players and one All-American, although the current roster does include two of their better recruiting classes.
Even though UMaine has the second-lowest recruiting budget in Hockey East, Barr said he doesn’t see recruiting as a huge challenge.
He was able to recruit NCAA championship-caliber players at schools like Union, Providence and UMass — none of which had a storied hockey tradition like UMaine does.
That tradition, along with the lively game-night atmosphere at Alfond Arena, has attracted many recruits to UMaine. That will make his job easier.
Barr called the atmosphere at Alfond Arena “intimidating” and one of the toughest rinks in the country to play in.
“Any time you got a win or a tie, it was a bonus,” said Barr, who hopes to make it a place where it is nearly impossible for opponents to win.
The late Shawn Walsh, who transformed UMaine from a doormat to a perennial NCAA championship contender, once said the key to being an effective recruiter is selling the recruit’s mother. She needs to know she is sending her son to a school that will develop him as a person, a student and a hockey player.
Barr is an engaging 39-year-old who immediately comes off as being trustworthy and sincere.
Having a $20 million upgrade to Alfond Arena courtesy of the Harold Alfond Foundation will certainly help recruiting.
Barr has a subtle self-confidence and appears to be likeable and genuine. He didn’t promise a national championship next season, but believes UMaine will show steady improvement and should be in contention by year three.
Remember, Walsh’s teams won only a combined 23 games in his first two seasons before leading UMaine to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in his third season and first Frozen Four berth the following year.
Barr said he will only recruit players who really want to attend UMaine and will be invested in it once they get to Orono. He explained that coaches can “push players in a positive way” to get the most out of them if they want to be there.
However, they must first be a good fit for the program or he won’t pursue them.
“If we don’t land high draft picks, we will get players who could become All-Americans at age 22 and 23,” Barr said.
He’ll require players to have a high compete level and work ethic, and he is looking for his teams to be more dynamic offensively and play faster than the recent UMaine teams.
“We will be an in-your-face team. We will be well-prepared and detailed,” he said.
Barr noted the tremendous support from the alums and the community and is looking forward to the challenge.
Interim head coach Ben Guite also would have been a good choice. He is classy, cares deeply about his alma mater and has grown in leaps and bounds as the associate head coach.
Barr should consider him and assistant coach Alfie Michaud for the staff.
At this point, Barr has a better track record and has developed winners everywhere he has been while working for a number of outstanding coaches.
Former UMaine standouts Jim Montgomery, Bruce Major and Garth Snow, who played pivotal roles in turning the program into a powerhouse, were on the search committee and endorsed Barr.
That should tell us that Barr is the right choice.