In this September 2019 photo, Ben Guite (right) works with University of Maine hockey players during a practice. Credit: Courtesy of UMaine Athletics

University of Maine men’s hockey associate head coach Ben Guite on Wednesday was promoted to interim head coach.

He steps in for eight-year coach Red Gendron, who collapsed and died Friday while playing golf at Penobscot Valley Country Club in Orono.

The 42-year-old Guite, who played at UMaine, was hired by Gendron in 2013 after the veteran coach replaced Tim Whitehead. Guite had just concluded his 13-year professional career.

“We are fortunate to have someone of Ben Guite’s experience and character to guide our program through this difficult time,” UMaine director of athletics Ken Ralph said. “Ben is a Black Bear alum, a national champion, played in the National Hockey League, and has established himself as one of the top assistant coaches in college hockey. More importantly, there is no one who cares more about the University of Maine and the success of its hockey program.

“He is passionate about the program and you can’t fake passion,” Ralph said.

Ralph said UMaine will begin a national search next week with a “small, mobile committee” and that Guite will be a “strong candidate.”

He explained that it could hurt recruiting if Guite was appointed for a one-year term as interim coach, because recruits wouldn’t be assured he would get the full-time job.

“As you can imagine, it’s been real difficult around here. At the moment, our thoughts are with Red’s wife, Jan, and their daughters Katie and Allie,” Guite said. “The most important job right now is to support Red’s family and our players.”

Ralph said he won’t put a timetable on the search to make sure they find the right candidate.

Guite will receive an undisclosed pay hike in line with his increased responsibilities.

“It’s an honor to come in here as an 18-year-old and have the experience that I had, and now to have a chance to lead the program with the interim tag is an honor,” Guite said. “It is a roller-coaster of emotions with everything that has happened but I’m very grateful.”

Guite was promoted from assistant coach to associate head coach at UMaine on Oct. 14, 2015.

“We need to provide direction for our program,” Guite said. “The program needs to keep going to remain competitive and make sure we’re ready for next season.”

Guite said only his father and former UMaine head coach Shawn Walsh have been more influential as mentors in his life tha Gendron.

“I spent the last eight years seeing him every day, so you can imagine the void this creates in our lives. You can also imagine the respect I had for the man and the foundation he has given me for being a good young coach,” Guite said.

Guite stressed that his coaching style and personality are different than Gendron’s.

“There’s a great foundation, a great culture that has been built here over the last eight years, that we need to keep moving forward,” Guite said. “And I will add my own things to make sure we’re as competitive as we can be. We’re here to win national championships and be contenders every year.”

UMaine went 3-11-2 this season with 15 of its 16 games played on the road due to COVID-19 restrictions. The Black Bears were one of the younger teams in Hockey East as 17 of the 28 players were freshmen or sophomores.

Guite noted that they were the only team to beat national champion Massachusetts (in a shootout) in the Minutemen’s last 12 games.

“We aren’t very far [from being a contender] at all. We have a lot of good young players. The key is to keep bringing in talented players that will play our style of hockey,” he said.

He said he wants to give back to a program and a community that have given him so much as a player and a coach.

Guite said being the interim head coach won’t alter his recruiting style or his enthusiasm.

“We’re going for it. In my head, I’m not the interim. I want to be the next head coach on a permanent basis and we’re building to win national championships,” he said. “This is the best place to play college hockey. There isn’t a more rabid fan base than ours.”

Ralph said men’s hockey is the flagship program for the university, including revenue-wise, and UMaine needs to re-establish its brand and compete for titles.

“We can’t play second fiddle to the other Hockey East teams,” Ralph said.

As a college player, Guite helped lead the Black Bears to their second national championship in 1999. He was named an assistant captain and was instrumental in UMaine’s run to the Frozen Four in 2000 when he registered a team-leading 22 goals.

Guite concluded his 146-game UMaine career with 96 points (37 goals, 49 assists).

The defensive-minded checker and penalty-killer appeared in 653 pro games, including 175 National Hockey League contests for three teams. He posted19 goals and 26 assists.

Guite earned a B.A. in English from UMaine in 2000, then achieved a Masters in Business Administration at his alma mater in 2009.

Guite and his wife, Kristen, a Portland native and UMaine alumna, are the parents of two sons, Patrick and Maxime.