LEWISTON – Ed Harding wasn’t a slam dunk, but he was pretty close.
Harding, a Cumberland native, was named the Lewiston Maineiacs’ third head coach and general manager Friday, more than four weeks after Clem Jodoin announced his resignation.
Maineiacs’ majority owner Mark Just and president Matt McKnight each pored through several applications, and their search brought them back to Harding.
“I took a long time, well over a month,” Just said. “We had some very good candidates. At the end of the day, the bottom line is that I felt (Harding) knows the league, he knows the team, he knows the area, he’s got passion, he can communicate to get the job done, he’s tough, but he also knows how to put his arm around you when you need that, too.”
Part of the reason the team received so many applicants, McKnight said, was the simple fact that the team is now the league’s defending champion.
“There were a lot of qualified applicants,” McKnight said. “It’s nice when you win, you have people who want to be associated with you.”
Despite the 40-plus-day wait, Harding was cool and calm. He had to be, guiding the team as its acting GM through the drafts.
“I was on audition, as I was for the last four years,” Harding said. “(Just) didn’t say much to me, he pretty much let me do what I had to do as far as the Euro draft was concerned.”
Harding has also taken the reins on a few other occasions in his four years as the Maineiacs’ top assistant. In the head coach’s absence, Harding went 18-11-1-1 in 31 games, including 14-5-1-1 in the last two seasons.
Being named the team’s assistant GM also helped him establish contacts across the league.
“When you come into a new league, everything has to be learned,” Harding said. “My job … has allowed me to make contact and work closely with people within the league and people at the league. I have a reputation I’ve built over the last three or four years. They know I’m a pretty straightforward, honest guy, so that certainly helps out as well.”
Among the players, Harding is regarded as, well, hard.
“The guys know I’m no-nonsense,” Harding said. “They know I’m black-and-white, and they exactly where they stand with me, and I’m going to let them know. Part of this job is not only to develop them as hockey players, but to develop them as human beings off the ice as well. Sometimes, there has to be a little bit of tough love. If you say ‘Yes, yes, yes’ all the time, you’re doing a disservice to them.”
“Ed has been acting in the role of an assistant coach.” McKnight said, “which takes a different personality, a different mindset and a different approach to how you actually coach and run the hockey operations. As a head coach, what he’s done in the past and how he’s had to deliver his message isn’t necessarily going to be the same this year.”
Just gave Harding his full vote of confidence, too, citing Harding’s four-year presence within the organization, and an ability to lead, which he’s developed in recent years.
“I think it brings continued stability to the organization,” Just said. “All in all, it was a no-brainer. Not that some other people couldn’t have done a good job in this capacity, but when you put all of this together, he has all of the things I was looking for. He’s very proud of being a Lewiston Maineiac. He also knows we have a job that’s unfinished here, to finish up what we didn’t finish last year.
“We had a great year,” Just continued, “but I was disappointed at the way we played in Vancouver. He knows that and he knows that we’re trying to put a team together this year that will finish that off. He’s the right guy to do it.”
Harding doesn’t have a to-do list yet, but one of the things he wants to do is ensure that assistant Jeff Guay, who has also been with the Maineiacs since Day 1, remains with the team.
“If I have anything to say about it, Jeff will be back,” Harding said, “but he and I certainly still have some things to discuss. His role will change a bit as well.”
With the promotion, Harding will also have another spot to fill under him – a second assistant.
“I’m looking for a goaltender coach/video coordinator,” Harding said. “That is the first criteria. We’re not going to have a guy coming only once per month anymore. If I can get a guy that is bilingual, then that would be fantastic. The process is now on to fill that spot.”
Lewiston’s training camp is set to open on Wednesday, Aug. 15.