The Maine Moose are back in the junior hockey business.
Even before the collapse of the Kennebec Ice Arena in Hallowell more than a year ago forced hundreds of hockey players and ice skaters to find alternate venues in which to play and practice, the Maine Moose junior hockey program contracted a bit. A member of the International Junior Hockey League, the Moose continued their Bantam and Midget programs two years ago, but suspended the junior level team.
Now, as the Kennebec Ice Arena — now the Bank of Maine Ice Vault — rises once again, so, too, will the Moose junior program.
And they’ll have some familiar faces guiding the junior program. Lewiston native and former Lewiston Maineiacs’ coach Jeff Guay will be the team’s head coach.
“I’m absolutely looking forward to it,” Guay said. “I’ve been off for a little bit, and got back into it with a midget team, the Auburn Bolts, and this is really a step back in the right direction for me.”
Guay’s work with the Bolts included his specialty with the Maineiacs: video breakdown and off-ice teaching.
And it was that style of teaching that turned Gray onto him in the first place.
“Ben (Gray, owner of the Maine Moose) sought me out,” Guay said. “He saw me at Kents Hill, I was sitting down doing video work, and he came up and talked to me about everything. He started it.”
“I knew of him, just from his coaching experience,” Gray said. “And he was coaching one of the teams in the league our midget team played in. I saw how well he worked with that team, how much they improved over the season and things he was doing with them to prepare for games. I was impressed.”
Gray did his research, found out what he could about Guay and then offered him the position.
“The way he worked with the kids, it really showed his dedication to them and to the sport,” Gray said.
It’s an eerie completion to a nearly tragic cycle for Guay.
“I was supposed to do a clinic that day at 6 p.m. when the roof collapsed,” Guay said. “It’s kind of like it’s come full circle.”
The Maine Moose are not the Lewiston Maineiacs, and the IJHL isn’t the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. But, Guay said, the program and the team are in position to be an important step for the right players looking to play hockey beyond the high school level.
“It’s a good step for kids if they decide they want to move on to the next level,” Guay said. “I’m not knocking high school hockey, it’s how I got my start in the game and there’s is definitely a place for it. But for the serious athlete who wants to play more and extend their career beyond high school, they really need to play junior hockey. I really believe I can help those kids move on.”
Guay also said he and the Moose aren’t selfish about keeping players, either.
“If a higher-level team, another junior team in another league or a college, comes and wants to move one of our players to the next level, they can absolutely have them,” Guay said. “That should be the goal of any junior program, to develop players and move them on to a higher level.”
Guay remembers firsthand how his junior hockey experience helped him.
“I tell people all the time, Lewiston is where I got my start in hockey, and I’m always going to be grateful for that,” Guay said. “But I also know that in my first year of junior hockey after high school, I probably learned more that one year about the game and myself than I had in my whole life.”
And then, of course, there were the Maineiacs, who gave Guay his break in coaching junior hockey at an elite level. With the Maineiacs, Guay was an assistant under a handful of head coaches, and even did a stint as the team’s interim head coach.
“It was good for me to go through all of those coaches,” Guay said. “I was able to learn from all of them, and I was able to take a lot of what each of them had to offer and kind of build my own style. The fact that I was able to stay with the team through all of the coaches tells me I was doing something right.
“The important thing, and how you grow as a coach and in hockey, you take a little bit of this, a little bit of that, from each coach, and from each experience. That’s something I learned from (former Maineiacs’ head coach and now head coach for Hamilton in the AHL) Clem Jodoin.”
Guay’s ties to the area’s rich hockey community also led him to hire a familiar assistant coach for the Moose, former Lewiston High School teammate Bill Desmarais.
“When I went through a list of people in my head of who might be good for the position, I remembered Billy, who was a freshman at Lewiston my senior year,” Guay said. “I thought, here’s a guy I can take under my wing and teach through the experiences I’ve had the past eight or nine years. He talked it over with his family, and didn’t take long to get back and come on board.”
The Moose will play out of the reconstructed Bank of Maine Ice Vault, on the same site as the former KIA, which is well under construction.
“We’re really excited to roll out our squirt, peewee, bantam, midget and junior teams next year,” Gray said. “The facility is going to be great, brand new and state-of-the-art. We’re excited to get going.”