ORONO, Maine — When Jay Leach was in his first stint as an assistant men’s hockey coach at the University of Maine, he would often go on recruiting trips with Doug Damon. Damon was a pilot and the two would fly to an arena where Leach would evaluate and recruit players.
The recruiting flights were certainly beneficial as Leach joined head coach Shawn Walsh’s staff in 1984 and the Black Bears went from 11-game winners to NCAA semifinalists in his four years there.
Leach also became enamored with flying.
“It was very peaceful. It was quite enjoyable. It’s a great way to see the world,” said Leach, who has returned to Maine and is in his second season as the associate head coach under Red Gendron.
Leach is currently in the process of obtaining his pilot’s license. When he can fit it into his busy schedule, he takes lessons from close friend and certified flight instructor Alan Miller of Bangor.
Leach said one of the primary purposes for taking flying lessons is to eventually help him recruit.
Leach is adamant that it could be a game-changer in the battle for players.
“It’s a no-brainer. It has been proven to save money. It makes sense timewise and it saves the wear and tear on your body [from driving),” Leach said. “Flying in small planes isn’t for everybody, but I like it.”
He also noted that there is no shortage of small airports so major airports can be avoided.
And many of those airports are near schools attended by potential recruits.
“I think it’s a great idea,” said Black Bear assistant coach Ben Guite. “You can fly from here to Boston in an hour or so instead of driving four hours. You can fly to places rather than paying to fly on a commercial flight. You wouldn’t have to fly to LaGuardia [Airport in New York] or Philadelphia first.
“And you wouldn’t have to spend money for hotels or drive [countless] hours. It would put us ahead of the game,” added Guite.
UMaine athletic director Karlton Creech is intrigued by the idea but he also has some concerns.
“There is potential but you’d have to look hard at the cost involved and you want to be very careful about the risk involved with it. But I’m certainly open to creative solutions. Absolutely,” he said.
Creech, who formerly worked at the University of North Carolina and North Carolina State, said he had never heard of an assistant coach with a pilot’s license who flew to recruit, but said he knows there are schools with their own planes that they use for recruiting purposes, including the University of Florida.
Leach said they would rent planes to recruit.
Miller and Leach explained that it would cost approximately $120 an hour to rent a plane, including fuel, but they are only charged for the time the plane is in the air.
Damon and Miller feel Leach would make a good pilot. He has already handled the controls when he has flown with them.
“He has the knack for it and the aptitude. And he loves it,” Miller said.
“Jay is a good flyer,” said Damon. “He has good light hands on the controls and anyone with good hands can be a pilot. It’s not complicated. And Jay’s a smart guy who can keep things under control.”
To obtain a private pilot license, the Federal Aviation Administration requires that someone has 40 hours of flight time before taking the practical test. That includes at least 20 hours of dual flying (with an instructor) and at least 10 hours solo. The student pilot will practice things like preflight procedures, airport operations, takeoffs and landings, navigation, flight at various air speeds, stalls (raising the nose of the plane while slowing down), night operations and emergency operations.
The student will have to get three hours of dual cross country flying (flights over 50 miles from their origin), three hours of dual flying at night and three hours of dual training on flying solely by reference to instruments. Part of the solo requirements includes five hours on cross-country flights, one of which will be over 150 miles in total distance with landings at three airports.
There are also written and oral exams.
Miller said it would take a student approximately 8-12 months to obtain the license.
“But if a student was really committed to flying and flew three three to five hours a week, a person could do it in four to five months. That’s the exception rather than the rule,” said Miller.
“I’m going to keep chipping away at it,” said Leach whose time is limited these days between his coaching and recruiting duties.
Leach, who hopes to have his license within a year, would also love to fly a floatplane someday in order to pursue another of his passions: fly fishing.