When former University of Maine goalie Alfie Michaud hung up his skates after a 15-year pro career, he wasn’t sure what he would do next.
He contacted Brad Church, the chief operating officer of the American Hockey League’s Portland Pirates, the top minor league affiliate of the National Hockey League’s Phoenix Coyotes.
The Pirates needed a goalie coach and, within a week, Michaud earned the position.
He also was named the head coach of the Portland Junior Pirates’ Under-18 team, which won the state Tier 2 title a couple of weeks ago and will play in the national tournament in March.
“Things happened really fast,” said Michaud, who was hired in July. “I really love it. For me to walk into something like this right after finishing my playing career is like catching lightning in a bottle.
“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a goalie coach or a head coach, and this is a unique opportunity which will allow me to see what I enjoy more,” added the 38-year-old Michaud, who backstopped t he Black Bears to their last NCAA title in 1998-99 and was named the NCAA Tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
“I’m pretty lucky. I’m very thankful to Arizona and Portland for giving me the opportunity,” said Michaud, who lives in Vienna and commutes 87 miles one way to the Pirates and Junior Pirates’ training facility in Saco. “I’ve been feeling my way through … learning as I go.”
The Pirates’ goaltending has been solid under Michaud’s tuteleage.
Former St. Lawrence University goalie Mike McKenna has the league’s fifth-best save percentage (.932) and a goals-against average (2.09), and Louis Domingue checks in at .922 and 2.29, respectively.
“Alfie has been excellent. The goalies like him. He speaks their language,” said Pirates head coach and general manager Ray Edwards. “We needed a guy who has been through the battles.”
Michaud said he has learned a great deal from the coaching staffs of Arizona and Portland. He attended rookie development camp and training camp with the Coyotes.
That enabled him to work with one of his childhood idols: Coyotes assistant general manager and goalie coach Sean Burke, who had an outstanding 820-game NHL career and also played for the Canadian National Team and Olympic squad.
Burke was involved in the interview process.
“Sean Burke is my mentor and my boss. I remember him when he played in the 1988 Olympics [for Canada]. I was 12 years old,” said Michaud. “He is a wonderful man with a great track record. He has done really well with the guys he’s coached. I’m very lucky to get to work with him.”
He noted that he has had the privilege to walk into a good situation with a great bunch of goalies.
“We watch a lot of video. We do drills that prepare them for games and make them feel good. In any sport, you need confidence. You need to feel good about yourself,” said Michaud.
Michaud said he seeks advice from people with goaltending knowledge such as former UMaine assistant Grant Standbrook, former goalies Mike Morrison and Jimmy Howard, San Jose Sharks goaltender development coach Corey Schwab and former Edmonton Oilers goalie coach Frederic Chabot.
Morrison played in the NHL, and Howard is the No. 1 goalie for the Detroit Red Wings.
Michaud actually served as a backup goalie for the Pirates in a Sunday afternoon game after Domingue got injured the previous night.
“It’s like riding a bike. I was a little wobbly at first [during warmups] but, at the end of it, you’re riding with no hands,” said Michaud, who did not play.
After leading Maine to the national title in 1998-99, he embarked on his pro career and appeared in two games for the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks in addition to playing in the AHL, IHL and ECHL.
The Selkirk, Manitoba, native also spent 10 years in Europe. He had spent his last five years in Denmark, but he and his family have returned to Maine.
Michaud and wife, Addie (Whittier), have three daughters: Saige, Leah and Faith.
On the weekend of Nov. 14, he returned to the Alfond Arena to be honored on the 15th anniversary of their NCAA title.
“It was great. Maine hockey is a big family,” said Michaud. “It was a special season and something we’ll share together for the rest of our lives.”