Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Whitehead Era Ends at Maine

Tim Whitehead's 12-year run as head men's hockey coach at the University of Maine is over.

Whitehead was fired today after compiling a 250-171-54 record at the helm of the Black Bears, including seven NCAA tournament berths, seven seasons of 20 or more victories, two appearances in the national title game, and a Hockey East tournament championship.

“I have been fortunate to be surrounded with great players, coaches and staff during my time at Maine,” Whitehead said to the Bangor Daily News. “We have fought through a lot of adversity together, but we have always embraced those challenges head on … The Maine hockey fans are the best in the country, and they have a lot to look forward to for next season.”

He had one year left on his contract at $190,000 a year, which university officials said will be paid through privately-raised funds from the President's Discretionary Account.

"Tim's positive character and demonstrated commitment to developing our hockey players as student-athletes have been outstanding," said University of Maine President Paul Ferguson on the Maine athletic web site. "We as a university are grateful for that commitment to student success."

Maine Director of Athletics Steve Abbott added that the decision was also based on the future of the school’s marquee athletic program, which won national titles in both 1993 and 1999.

"This is about the future of our marquee program,” said Abbott. “Since 2008, UMaine has experienced declining Hockey East success, season ticket sales and overall ticket revenues, and waning student engagement in men's ice hockey.

“The President and I are committed to ensuring that our Men's Hockey Program is financially sustainable, continues to focus on developing the student-athlete and is known nationally for excellence."

Whitehead, a 1985 graduate of Hamilton College, was an assistant coach at Maine before being named interim head coach when the late Shawn Walsh was stricken with cancer. Following Walsh’s death in 2001, Whitehead subsequently led Maine to the 2002 NCAA championship contest where it fell to host Minnesota, 4-3, in overtime.

Two years later, he guided the Black Bears to a 33-8-2 overall mark and a conference tournament championship—but Maine fell to Denver, 1-0, in the national title contest in Boston.

The Black Bears completed a run of six consecutive NCAA Tournament berths in 2007, when they made it to the Frozen Four in St. Louis, but lost to eventual national champion Michigan State in the semifinals. That was one year after doing likewise against eventual NCAA champion Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

The Black Bears would then miss the national tournament in five of Whitehead’s final six seasons, with Maine falling to defending national champion Minnesota-Duluth by a 5-2 count in a 2012 NCAA Northeast Regional semifinal in Worcester, Mass.

This past season Maine went 11-19-8 overall and finished seventh in the Hockey East standings with a 7-12-8 mark. The Black Bears did sweep defending NCAA champion Boston College in a two-game set in January, but were eliminated by eventual Hockey East champion UMass Lowell in the first round of the conference playoffs.

Prior to taking the reins at Alfond Arena, Whitehead served as head coach at UMass Lowell for five seasons, from 1996 to 2001. His coaching ledger through 17 NCAA Division I campaigns stands at 326-264-65 overall. He has also served as a graduate assistant coach at Maine, and as an assistant coach at Middlebury College in his career.

Under Whitehead's tutelage in Orono, players such as Ben Bishop, Jimmy Howard, Dustin Penner and Teddy Purcell all reached the NHL, with Penner winning Stanley Cups with both the Anaheim Ducks (2007) and Los Angeles Kings (2012).

Whitehead is the third NCAA Division I hockey coach to be relived of his duties in recent weeks, following Denver’s George Gwozdecky, who spent 19 years with the Pioneers, and Dave Shyiak of Alaska Anchorage, who led the Seawolves for eight seasons.

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