University of Maine men's hockey head coach Red Gendron watches the action during a game in January 2020. Credit: Peter Buehner / UMaine Athletics

University of Maine head men’s ice hockey coach Red Gendron died Friday after experiencing a medical emergency while playing golf at the Penobscot Valley Country Club in Orono.

He was 63 years old.

Jeff Susdorf, the general manager of the PVCC, said Gendron was playing with a “younger gentleman” but didn’t have the name of his playing partner.

Gendron was a member of the PVCC and was an avid golfer.

He had just completed his eighth season as the head coach at UMaine. 

Paul Culina, athletic trainer and the director of hockey operations for the men’s hockey team, said Gendron seemed fine earlier in the day when the team met to receive academic awards.

Culina was unaware of any health problems, saying Gendron would have kept any such issues to himself. He said Gendron had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

UMaine student Patrick Silvia, who works for The Maine Campus student newspaper, was preparing to play a round of golf Friday at PVCC. He recounted his experience on his Twitter feed.

“I was on the first tee box this afternoon at Penobscot Country Club just outside of Orono right as I was about to hit my ball I heard someone yell “does anyone know CPR”. Shortly after cop cars and an ambulance arrived. Red Gendron had passed away 2 holes in front of me. RIP.”

Peter Wentworth, a sergeant with the Orono Police Department, confirmed that Gendron experienced a “medical issue” but is legally not allowed to comment further because it wasn’t a police matter.

“Rich Powell and I were just coming off the eighth green early this afternoon when Red and three young guys were on the 2nd tee. Rich and I went over, shook hands with Red, and had a very nice chat. He looked great and was in fine spirits. It wasn’t long after that,” said George Jacobson, who chaired the search committee that hired Gendron.

“He told us about the enormous challenges that he and the team faced during this past year.  We agreed that it was fun to see Jeremy [Swayman] playing so well for the Bruins,” said Jacobson, professor emeritus of biology, ecology and climate change at UMaine.

“I’’ve always had the very greatest respect and affection for Red, who was a genuine intellectual and academic who also happened to be a fine hockey coach. He was one of the most interesting people I’ve known,” Jacobson said.

The Berlin, New Hampshire, native had a long and impressive 34-year coaching career that included stints in the high school, Junior hockey and college ranks as well as in the National Hockey League.

“We are shocked and deeply saddened by Red’s sudden death,” UMaine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy said. “He was a force in UMaine Athletics and in the legacy of our men’s ice hockey program. We mourn his passing and remember his many contributions to the generations of players he mentored and to the program that lit up Black Bear Nation and the state of Maine. Our thoughts are with his wife Janet, and daughters Katelyn and Allison, his coaching staff and players. They have our support and respect for their privacy during this difficult time.” 

Gendron’s most recent contract with UMaine was set to expire on June 30. UMaine Director of Athletics Ken Ralph had said Gendron and the coaching staff were working toward next season and that the department was looking for ways to improve its financial support of the program.

“Words cannot express our deep sadness from the tragic, sudden loss of Red Gendron,” Ralph said. “Our community and the entire UMaine Athletics family mourn the loss of Coach Gendron and we ask you all to keep him, his family, his friends, and our hockey staff and student-athletes in your thoughts through this agonizing time.”

Gendron’s death rocked the hockey community.

Former UMaine defenseman Brady Keeper, who is playing in the Florida Panthers organization for Syracuse in the American Hockey League, said Gendron was one of the “nicest men” he knew and was one of “the better coaches I’ve ever played for.”

Culina said Gendron may have been perceived as an intense individual, but that he had the demeanor of a head coach and had a big heart.

“He cared deeply about everyone in the program and he loved the university,” Culina said.

Hockey Hall of Fame coach Jerry York of Boston College, the nation’s winningest college hockey coach, said he was “stunned” by the news.

“I texted him a couple of days ago and he was in great spirits. He was really looking forward to next season,” York said. “I liked him a lot. It is a tragic loss for Hockey East and the college hockey community. He was a really powerful figure. He was a good, genuine guy and his book, ‘Coaching Hockey Successfully’, is the best hockey manual around.”

Joe Bertagna, who served 23 years as the commissioner of Hockey East, said it is a sad day. He said he sometimes knocked heads with coaches from time to time, but “always considered Red a friend.”

Bertagna likened Gendron to a prep school professor with his knowledge and the way he carried himself. Gendron was a voracious reader and had a passion for history.

Radio play-by-play announcer Jon Shields of the Black Bear Sports Network hosted the Coach Gendron radio show every week during the season.

“He was a very nice man. He had a way of making me feel good about the job I was doing,” Shields said. “He was very supportive of me. And he was a very knowledgeable guy.”

With Gendron’s death, associate head coach Ben Guite likely will assume the role of interim head coach.