LEWISTON — New Maine Nordiques head coach Matt “Pinch” Pinchevsky took an unorthodox path into hockey.

The 39-year-old native of Pembroke Pines, Florida, was a multi-sport athlete who played football, baseball and soccer. In 1992, Hurricane Andrew made landfall in South Florida, forcing the 10-year-old Pinchevsky’s family to move. His athletic endeavors changed forever when he met a boy named Nick Ellis in his new neighborhood.

Maine Nordiques coach Matt Pinchevsky runs practice Thursday morning at The Colisee in Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

“It was out of necessity to make a friend,” said Pinchevsky, who earlier this week was promoted head coach of the Nordiques, replacing Nolan Howe. “When Hurricane Andrew demolished our neighborhood, everybody took their insurance checks and moved further off the coast and more inland. It was a new development; it was either young families with infants or elderly folks.

“The minute another child my age moved into the development — (Ellis) was from Nova Scotia — all of a sudden I was (like), ‘Hey, do you want to play? I got a football, catcher’s mitt, soccer ball, do you want to play any of these sports?’ He was like, ‘No, I play hockey.’”

Pinchevsky didn’t realize at the time that hockey was about to boom in the Sunshine State. The NHL expanded to Florida, first adding the Tampa Lightning in 1992 and then Florida Panthers in Miami — which is 35 minutes from Pembroke Pines — in 1993.

Pinchevsky first put on rollerblades when he was 11 years old, and he laced up his first pair of skates a year later.

“I don’t know if it was all the other sports that made me an athlete or helped me to be open to absorb instruction, skill development, and (being able to) compete, things like that, the life lessons you learn, the camaraderie, the brotherhood,” Pinchevsky said. “I dropped everything; I dropped five years of piano, I dropped all other sports. I was waking up early to do my homework so I could have more time on the ice at night. I took to it, and I caught the bug. I caught it bad.”

In 1997, he moved to Faribault, Minnesota, to play midget and prep hockey at the hockey factory of Shattuck St. Mary’s.

LONG-LASTING FRIENDSHIP

When Maine Nordiques general manager Eric Soltys first arrived at Shattuck-St. Mary’s as a goalie coach in 1999, he saw Pinchevsky, who was a junior on the varsity prep team, soaking up the coaching he received and believed Pinchevsky could be a coach someday.

“Coming in at that time as a Florida player, he was a highly skilled (forward), and there wasn’t a lot of coaching going on in Florida, where he came (from),” Soltys said. “He came in like a sponge in Minnesota; he was looking for any and all angles to better his game as a player. When you see that determination, that commitment, and drive to better yourself as a player, you always wonder if he may have some coaching in him.”

There were eight different hockey teams, from the bantam level to the varsity prep team, at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, and Pinchevsky watched the other teams practice. He was soaking up the coaching from Soltys and Shattuck-St. Mary’s head coach Tom Ward. He was particularly drawn to Soltys’ personality.

“(Soltys’) energy was so contagious, and again, goalie coaches don’t mean anything to (defensemen and forwards) unless they ask you to be a shooter (in practice), but he was much more than that to all of us — in the dining hall, in the dorms when he was on dorm duty and on road trips,” Pinchevsky said. “He became an important piece for all of us, and we have stayed connected ever since.”

Soltys said the connection between he and Pinchevsky grew and developed into a family-type bond.

“Having Matt as a first-year player 22 years ago, watching where he has come through his life, watching him get married, and having a family, it’s really fun being a part of his world,” Soltys said. “I am super fortunate to call him a brother, and a 22-year relationship stemming back from when I was barking at him as a player meant something.”

TRANSITION TO COACHING

Pinchevsky didn’t think coaching was something he wanted to do.

After graduating Shattuck-St. Mary’s in 2000 and playing a few years of junior hockey in the Eastern Junior Hockey League with the Lowell Jr. Lock Monsters and the Bridgewater Bandits, he played his college hockey at Curry College, an NCAA Division III school in Milton, Massachusetts, from 2003-07.

In 2009, he became a coach for the Florida Alliance youth hockey program while working in Broward County (Florida) School system.

“I was pretty naive; I probably said once or twice in my career, ‘Coaches are players who can’t play anymore,’” Pinchevsky said.

He coached three different age groups during his two years with the Florida Alliance. Pinchevsky then reunited with Soltys at the South Kent School in South Kent, Connecticut, to start up the Selects Hockey Academy, which followed the Shattuck-St. Mary’s model of having teams at different age levels.

“It’s one of those things, we were starting a brand new academy at a prep school that was almost 200 years old,” Pinchevsky said. “It was rebranding a program of excellence that was something so old and traditional.”

Soltys said Selects Academy is where Pinchevsky found what was going to make him a good coach.

“His game management and player management are the two skills that really have grown the most for him,” Soltys said. “Pinch has always been a great guy, ready to teach and ready to show you (what to do). He does it with a passion. Now he has really translated that to players knowing what their role is and understanding that he’s doing it for their best interest.”

Pinchvesky spent three years at Selects Hockey Academy. He then served as the head coach of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights of the Metropolitan Junior Hockey League for the 2014-15 season, and head coach of the the Portland Jr. Pirates 18U team in 2015-16. He moved on to the Seacoast Performance Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire, in 2016.

The Maine Nordiques hired him as an assistant coach in 2019.

Like the Selects Academy, the Performance Academy and the Nordiques were brand new organizations.

“I feel like I have been in a perpetual startup over the years,” Pinchevsky said.

PLAYERS’ COACH

Now, two-plus years after the start of the Maine Nordiques, Pinchevsky is in charge of the organization’s NAHL team.

He is regarded as a players’ coach, which, Soltys said, is someone who has the ability to coach players on the ice as well as be available for them off it.

One of the first players Pinchevsky and Soltys recruited at the Selects Academy was Kyle Warren. Warren is now an assistant coach with the Nordiques.

“Matt has meant everything to me,” Warren said. “He has been one of greatest mentors since I got on campus at South Kent. He and Soltys took me under their wing when I was 13, and I couldn’t be any more grateful for all they have done for me. They have been with me since I was 13, and even when I wasn’t playing for them anymore, they were a phone call or text away, and they were always there for me.”

Warren said he connected with Pinchevsky and Soltys is because of their love and passion for hockey. Those who have played for or worked alongside Pinchevsky say that his energy inspires players to maximize their effort and dedication to the sport and the team.

“He tries to reinforce positivity, and he always gives a good game plan,” Maine Nordiques forward Caden Pattison said. “Whatever you need help, he always has an open ear on the ice and off the ice.”

Being there for them at any time of the day resonates with the players.

“He’s the heart and soul of this program,” Nordiques forward Zion Green said. “He really comes in every day — he’s one of the best coaches I ever had — he works as hard as anybody I have ever seen. He cares for every single guy on this team. You can tell (we aren’t) guys he coached; it’s family to him.”

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