Experience and a familiarity with hockey at multiple levels were key factors in the Twin City Thunder’s coaching search, which officially ended Monday morning with the announcement of the program’s first coach.

Cape Elizabeth native and former professional hockey player Doug Friedman will be the first coach of the Thunder, who begin play in the United States Premier Hockey League at Norway Savings Bank Arena in the fall.

“(Owners) Ben (Gray) and Dan (Hodge) have been successful with a lot of their endeavors,” Friedman said. “They have a good vision as to what they want, and that’s one of the things that drew me to this opportunity.”

For the past four years, Friedman, who played seven professional seasons after skating four years at Boston University, has been the athletic director and head boys’ ice hockey coach at Kents Hill School.

Friedman also has recent experience with the USPHL. Just prior to taking the job at Kents Hill in 2014, Friedman coached with the Portland Junior Pirates in the EJHL and then the USPHL’s Premier division. And while he understands that the junior hockey experience isn’t for everyone, he also knows how valuable it can be for those who choose that path.

“It’s certainly a much more prevalent path for many families to get to college,” Friedman said. “I don’t know of many kids from public high schools going to play college, and even prep school players, there are many who have to do a year of juniors before colleges will even consider them, and not just Division I but Division III, also.”

The USPHL has undergone changes in the past couple of seasons, and Friedman is excited about the direction of the league, and of the Thunder, who are going to play their first season beginning in September in the Premier division. The team’s ultimate goal appears to be to advance to the top tier of the USPHL for 2019-20.

“The league is growing, it’s a really strong league,” Friedman said. “They have a lot of good players in this league, and a lot of college commitments. It’s a very competitive league and a great opportunity for kids in New England who maybe don’t want to go away, to stay closer to home, closer to where they want to go to school and play in front of those coaches. That’s a big draw.”

Friedman’s experience at several levels endeared him to team management.

“I’ve known Doug for a few years now, and watching how he coaches and what he does, it’s impressive,” Thunder owner Ben Gray said. “And his resume, it speaks volumes. At every level from the NHL right on down, to Division I and Division III college … we want the Thunder to be a top-notch program, and to have a person of Doug’s caliber for coaching and recruiting, for us it was a no-brainer with his resume.”

Born in Connecticut, Friedman grew up in Cape Elizabeth, where he played in the Casco Bay Youth Hockey Association before going on to star at Cape Elizabeth High School. After his sophomore year, Doug enrolled at Lawrence Academy, hoping to improve his chances of playing Division I college hockey. With no takers in the formal recruiting process, he enrolled at Colby College to play at the Division III level. At the end of his senior year at Lawrence, though, he arranged a meeting with BU Coach Jack Parker, who told Friedman that he could walk on as a freshman and have a shot to make the team.

He played four seasons under Parker. His most productive season in the NCAA saw him net 17 goals and add 24 assists for 41 points as a junior in 1992-93. As a senior, the former walk-on was the Terriers’ captain. In all, his teams made three trips to the Frozen Four, won two Beanpot titles and two Hockey East titles, making him at the time the winningest player ever at BU. In 1993, Friedman was named New England’s top defensive forward.

Drafted by the Quebec Nordiques, Friedman skated for the Cornwall Aces of the American Hockey League for two seasons and with the Hershey Bears for one. That season, as one of the team’s captains, Friedman helped Hershey hoist the Calder Cup as the AHL’s best team.

In 1997-98, he got his first taste of NHL action, appearing in 16 games for the Edmonton Oilers while also skating 55 for the Hamliton Bulldogs in the AHL.

Taken in the expansion draft, Friedman played a pair of games for the Nashville Predators in their inaugural season and spent the rest of the 1998-99 campaign with the Predators’ affiliate in Milwaukee. He hung up the skates on pro hockey after two more teams and two more seasons, ending his seven-year pro career with 496 regular- and postseason games played in the AHL and IHL, and 18 in the NHL.

That experience, he said, has been invaluable in helping teach young players who aspiring to reach the collegiate and professional level.

“Having gone through it already, myself many years ago — it was a bit different then with the USHL basically the only junior option — with the Pirates organization and with Kents Hill now, I have a pretty good grasp of the process and the routes (to college). Let’s face it, there are a lot of different routes to get where you want to go, and a lot of choices for families these days.”

“He’s no stranger to junior hockey, and that was a big thing, too,” Gray said. “We’ve been heavily recruiting, and we’re planning on some player announcements soon, and having a guy who knows the caliber of the league makes it easier when we’re out looking for players.”

Friedman is expected to name the rest of his staff in the coming weeks. The team is also expected to announce a handful of player commitments for the inaugural season in the coming weeks.

“I’m hopeful we have a good group of kids in-state who have the ability to eventually play for the Thunder, and there will obviously be some kids for far away, too,” Friedman said. “This is a great opportunity.”

Doug Friedman, pictured in 2011 when he was a coach for the Junior Maine Mariners.


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