“Coach” is going home.
Norm Gagne, the Edward Little High School alumnus who is second to none in wins in Maine high school hockey history, will stand behind his alma mater’s bench as its head coach for the first time in his storied career next season, leaving Scarborough’s program behind after eight seasons and one state championship.
“It was probably the toughest decision I ever had to make,” Gagne said Friday.
Tough, he said, but made far easier by a key element in his life — family.
“My mom still lives right in Auburn, not far from the rink,” Gagne said. “She’s 96 years old … I just think it’s time for me, where I can still do what I love to do and coach, and also see her every day. I decided it was time to do this. I can spend more time with her before I go to practice, or take her out to lunch. Right now I only get to see her once or twice a month, and this way, I’ll be able to see her almost every day.”
The timing worked out perfectly for Edward Little High School, too. The Red Eddies struggled to a 5-13-0 record this past season and bowed out in the first round of the playoffs under Brett Barrett, whose tenure lasted less than one calendar year.
Gagne saw the posted position and reached out.
“When I called him to talk to him about the position, his voicemail was, ‘Hey, this is Coach,'” EL Athletic Director Dan Deshaies said. “That said a lot to me right there.”
As Deshaies and Gagne discussed the job, one thing in particular stuck out to Deshaies.
“The first thing he talked about was the student-athletes’ performance in the classroom,” Deshaies said. “Then, he talked about being a good teammate, and that captains had to be good leaders, both on and off the ice. How do you argue with that? Before any of the Xs and Os, he’s caring about their work in the classroom.”
“It’s about being a student first,” Gagne reiterated. “I learned that my first year of coaching. An older coach, when I was starting, told me, ‘Get some smart kids who work hard in the classroom, that’s where they learn their problem-solving skills.’ He was right. You need to be able to problem solve in hockey at a fast clip. It’s a fast game, and you have to hone those skills.”
That skill set is one reason Gagne got started with the sport in the first place. A standout athlete at EL in the early 1960s, Gagne was all set to play basketball to augment his football and baseball seasons — until the school wanted to start a hockey team.
“Dr. Chabot, he was a dentist here in town, he was on the school board, too,” Gagne said. “I hung around with his sons — he had three sons who played hockey. They all played parochial school hockey then, at St. Louis in Auburn. They grew up playing hockey. They invited me over one night for dinner and he said, ‘Hey, we’re starting a hockey team, you’d be a good goalie for us.’ I said, ‘Gee, I don’t know, I’m playing basketball.’
“So I went to basketball tryouts and to hockey tryouts, and finally, Linc (Gordon, EL’s first hockey coach) saw me in the hallway one day, and he said, ‘Hey, it’s been two weeks of practices with both teams, are you you going to decide what you’re going to do?’ I said, ‘What do you think I ought to do?’
“And he said, ‘Well, you’re my starting goalie, so I hope you’re going to choose hockey.'”
Despite moving away from hockey in college — Gagne earned a baseball scholarship — and despite looking to coach football at his first teaching job at Gardiner, Gagne found his way back into hockey as a coach for the Tigers.
Seven-hundred-and-fifteen wins, seven state titles and thousands of successful athletes later, he’s back where it all started.
“This is home for me,” Gagne said. “And this is a good way for me to go out, to go back to where it all started. It’s a perfect situation for me. I’m excited about it.”
Another familiar face, Mike Hefty, will accompany Gagne to EL. An assistant with Gagne at both Lewiston and Scarborough, Hefty will also help Gagne out at EL, where his wife is a track and field coach.
“Hefty has coached with me before; he’s very good with the players, he comes across well, he has a good demeanor with the kids,” Gagne said. “I need guys like him.”
Gagne said he’s aware of the team’s recent past, and is fully intent on reversing its fortunes.
“They had a rough year last year, and I want to bring the program back to where I think it should be, and I think I can do that,” Gagne said. “It’s going to take a few years, maybe, but that’s OK.”
Scarborough High School head coach Norm Gagne steps into the bench area prior to the home matchup against visiting Lewiston at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston. Gagne coached the Blue Devils before taking the coaching position for the Red Storm, and will now take over at Edward Little.Scarborough High School head coach Norm Gagne, right, and assistant coach Mike Hefty talk before ths start of the second period of a recent home game at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston. Hefty will join Gagne at Edward Little next season.
Coach Norm Gagne, by the numbers
Total Maine high school games coached: 1,052
Games won: 715
Games lost: 303
Games tied: 34
Wins with Waterville: 355
Wins with Gardiner: 156
Wins with Lewiston: 46
Wins with Gorham: 17
Wins with Scarborough: 141
State championships: 7 (3 Gardiner, 3 Waterville, 1 Scarborough)