Ben Guite discovered a new world in his first season as a head coach for the ECHL’s Maine Mariners.
The former University of Maine player and eight-year assistant/associate head coach went from coaching a college team with approximately 25 players on its roster and having a 34-game schedule to coaching 54 players and playing 72 regular season games.
The Mariners finished tied for third in the six-team North Division and with a record of 33 wins, 31 losses, five overtime losses and three shootout losses. Their 74 points tied them with the Trois-Rivieres Lions.
The Mariners were ousted in six games in the first round of the Kelly Cup playoffs by the Reading Royals (Philadelphia Flyers affiliate), who finished the regular season with 99 points which was second most in the 27-team league.
Guite is under contract for one more year with the parent Boston Bruins, and has learned how to adapt to the unpredictable nature of minor league sports, which involves a revolving door of players coming and going all the time.
“It was a great learning experience, that’s for sure,” said the 43-year-old Guite, who was briefly interim head coach of the Black Bears after head coach Red Gendron died unexpectedly. “When you play 78 games, it’s like two or three seasons. To have that many players [coming and going] keeps you on your toes. You have to keep things very simple and you need great leadership.”
Guite said he had 23 players called up to the American Hockey League.
They often had stretches when they would play three games in three nights and four games in five nights. There was very little practice time.
“There were times it was hard to put a team together. We had three guys come out of retirement to help us field a team,” he said.
College teams play the vast majority of their games on weekends and have at least three or four practices a week.
Guite was involved in the player-personnel decisions and the recruitment of players. But he was recruiting players who were going to play immediately.
In college, you are recruiting players for the next season, or even two or three seasons down the road.
“He also had to be a general manager, in a way,” said former UMaine center Patrick Shea, who was the Mariners’ seventh-leading scorer this past season with 31 points on 15 goals and 16 assists in 60 games including 10 points (5 goals, 5 assists) in his last 10 games.
Shea said Guite did a good job in his first season as a head coach.
He explained that Guite exhibited the ability to be a personable and laid-back player’s coach but also be a coach who holds his players accountable for their performances and insists on maximum effort.
“He found the balance really well. When he turned the switch on, he was all business. All the players respected him,” Shea said.
“I loved playing for him,” said another former Black Bear, center Brendan Robbins. “He had an open door policy. You could go in and talk to him about anything. Every player is different but he knew what it took to motivate each player.”
Shea said Guite’s vast experience as a pro player served him well.
Guite had a 911-game pro career after his four seasons at UMaine and that included a 184-game NHL career, including 10 playoff games. He helped lead UMaine to its last NCAA title in 1998-99. He had 47 goals and 49 assists in 146 games at UMaine.
Guite said he was fortunate that former Mariners coach Riley Armstrong, who left to become an assistant coach in the AHL with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, left him with a full cupboard.
“The players had great attitudes and were hard-working guys who played for each other,” said Guite. “They were willing to be coached. They wanted to learn and get better.”
He had several former Black Bears including Shea, Robbins, winger Eduards Tralmaks and defenseman J.D. Greenway.
Robbins had seven goals and 13 assists in 54 regular season games, Greenway had five assists in 26 games, and Tralmaks notched four goals and three assists in just two games before being recalled by the AHL’s Providence Bruins, where he wound up notching 14 goals and 13 assists in 51 games.
“[Tralmaks] hadn’t been playing in Providence so they sent him down to us. He really lit it up for us and got an injection of confidence that he needed. It’s hard to develop confidence sitting in the stands. He went on to become one of Providence’s better players until he got hurt at the end of the season,” said Guite, a Montreal native who still lives in Bangor with wife Kristen and sons Patrick and Max.
Guite is already looking forward to next season and feels he will be more comfortable now that he has a year under his belt.
“I’m excited to build on what we did this year,” Guite said. “The standards will be higher. It was a really fun process.”