University of Massachusetts at Amherst assistant hockey coach Ben Barr, middle, talks to players during a game this season. Barr was named the next UMaine men’s hockey head coach on Wednesday. Photo provided by UMass athletics

University of Maine athletic director Ken Ralph said he always knew there was something special about Ben Barr.

In introducing Barr as the new UMaine men’s ice hockey coach Wednesday afternoon, Ralph talked about how he’s known Barr for close to 20 years. They met when Ralph was the athletic director at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Barr was a member of the Engineers hockey team.

“He was special then. You could just see it. Some people just have that quality about them,” Ralph said.

Barr, 39, who was an assistant coach at UMass-Amherst the last five season, became the fifth coach in UMaine men’s hockey history. Barr replaces Dennis “Red” Gendron, who died April 9 following a medical emergency at Penobscot Valley Country Club in Orono.

Ralph said Barr signed a four-year contract, with a provision that could add an extra two years with a winning record in Hockey East. Financial terms were not disclosed.

“Obviously, with the passing of Red, the circumstances around this are not ideal,” said Barr said in a media Zoom call Wednesday afternoon. “It’s tough on the team. It’s tough on the community. I hope that in time, I can honor the memory of the people who came before me. There’s so many of those people in this program. Players, coaches, there’s a tremendous amount of responsibility I feel to carry the torch into the future for Maine Black Bear hockey.”

Ralph said his past relationship with Barr both helped and hurt the candidate land the job.

“I didn’t want people to look and say, ‘OK this is somebody that Ken knows, a former student, so it’s a done deal.’ In fact, I was probably a lot harder on Ben in the process than I was on other candidates in the process because of that. He had to go over and above what other produced as part of the search,” Ralph said. “We probably put Ben through the wringer harder than other candidates. When you’re good, you don’t mind that. When you’re good, you don’t mind the extra scrutiny. When you’re good, you stand up and be tough and let your record stand for itself.

University of Massachusetts at Amherst assistant hockey coach Ben Barr was named the next UMaine men’s hockey head coach on Wednesday. Barr helped the Minutemen win the NCAA national title last season. Photo provided by UMass athletics

“This is not a search we had anticipated in this year, and the circumstances of it were difficult… Fortunately through all of it, we got our No. 1 choice.”

Barr met with his team virtually Wednesday morning.

“It was really quick. My message to them was, I’m really excited to get to work. I know it’s a few months away before we’re finally on the ice together and doing all the hockey stuff, but I just told them I’m looking forward to building our relationship and being with them. The only way this all works is, they trust me. I trust them. That takes time,” Barr said.

Ben Guite, a former UMaine player and assistant coach under Gendron, served as the team’s interim head coach over the last month.

Barr helped coach the Minutemen — a rival to Maine in Hockey East — to the national title this spring. The Minutemen beat St. Cloud State 5-0 on April 10 in Pittsburgh to take the crown. Barr served as UMass recruiting coordinator and coached the defensemen. Barr also coached Cale Makar, who won the 2019 Hobey Baker Award as college hockey’s top player. Makar went on to win the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie with the Colorado Avalanche in 2020.

Ralph said he spoke to people throughout the hockey world — including agents, advisors and scouts — and was impressed by Barr’s reputation as a recruiter.

“It was clear from all of them that they consider Ben to be the best recruiter they see in college hockey. The connection he makes with the players, the way he works with the families, and the way he follows through with those promises once they arrive on campus have put him in the position where he is one of the most trusted people out on the recruiting trail. We want that success to translate with what we’re doing with our Black Bears,” Ralph said.

University of Massachusetts at Amherst assistant hockey coach Ben Barr holds the national championship trophy on April 10 at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh. Barr was named the UMaine men’s hockey head coach on Wednesday. Photo provided by UMass athletics

Barr’s coaching path began as a volunteer assistant at RPI, his alma mater, with stops at Union, Providence and Western Michigan before the last five seasons at UMass.

“He’s been a winner at multiple programs. You take a look at what happened during his time at Union. You take a look at what happened at Providence. You take a look at what was built at Western Michigan in his stint there, and everybody knows the story of what has happened at UMass when Ben got there with Greg Carvel. He’s walked the path,” Ralph said.

Barr said in recruiting, he will look to use Maine’s tradition and building the team back up as selling points with potential players. The Black Bears went 3-11-2 in the 2020-21 season that was shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic. They have not played in the NCAA tournament since 2012.

“The schools I’ve been at in the past, at the start did not have the past and history and tradition of a school like Maine. So we have that going for us already, which is great. I don’t see there being huge challenges on the recruiting front. I think the challenge is making sure you get the right person,” said Barr, who was a captain at RPI in his seniors season (2003-04), “It’s easy to go and watch a hockey game and find the best player. That’s not always the way to build your program. Sometimes finding that next level player that might fit your culture better than the player that’s a year or two older than them that might be a better player today.”

University of Massachusetts at Amherst assistant hockey coach Ben Barr was named the next UMaine men’s hockey head coach on Wednesday. Barr helped the Minutemen win the NCAA national title last season. Photo provided by UMass athletics

Joining Ralph on the search committee were former UMaine hockey standouts Jim Montgomery, himself a former RPI assistant coach, Garth Snow and Bruce Major, along with deputy director of athletics Brian Faison and associate athletic director for compliance Samantha Hegmann.

“I’m really excited about the future of Maine hockey with Ben Barr as our head coach,” said Montgomery, the program’s all-time leading scorer and captain of the 1993 national title-winning team, in a statement. “He has shown the ability to recruit national championship teams in Hockey East while working with a vast number of great coaches.”

Auburn native and Quinnipiac associate head coach Joe Dumais was reportedly a finalist for the job and told the Sun Journal’s Nathan Fournier: “I went through the process and it was exciting talking with the team I grew up rooting for. I’m very happy for Ben (Barr).”

Barr is eager to get to Orono and get started.

“I don’t know if there’s many programs that have the tradition, a better history, than Maine. I know it’s been a while since there’s been championships. I know we can get that buzz back,” Barr said. “I know it can be done. I’ve seen it done at multiple places.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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