Derek Damon started his hockey career playing for Bangor’s John Bapst High School and St. Dominic Academy in Lewiston.
He then went on to play for the University of Maine, where he finished as the school’s 42nd leading all-time scorer with 111 points on 51 goals and 60 assists in 160 games.
Now Damon has been promoted to head coach and general manager of the Iowa Heartlanders of the ECHL. The team, based in the Iowa City suburb of Coralville, is affiliated with the National Hockey League’s Minnesota Wild.
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Damon will be the second former UMaine player to become a head coach in the league, joining Maine Mariners coach Ben Guite.
The Bangor native was an assistant coach for the first-year franchise this past season under head coach Gerry Fleming, who is taking a coaching position in Germany.
The Heartlanders went 29-33-10 this past season.
“I’m really looking forward to year two and putting my stamp on it. My goal is to win the Kelly Cup,” the 41-year-old Damon said, referring to the award that goes to the playoff champion.
Under his guidance, the Heartlanders’ power play was second in the 27-team league in goals with 65 and its 24.9 percent efficiency rate was fourth best.
He said his players will be in excellent physical condition because they are going to emulate the way the UMaine teams played under the late Shawn Walsh.
“We’re going to be playing fast, relentless, in-your-face hockey,” Damon said. “Our guys are going to be willing to put in the work to get to the next level.”
He credited Fleming with playing a major role in his development. Damon played for Fleming in the ECHL from 2006-08 when he was with the Florida Everblades.
“I was really fortunate this season in that I had a lot of autonomy working with Gerry. I collaborated with him on all of our decisions. He put me in the right position to take over.”
Fleming hired Damon to groom him to take over when he left.
“Derek will do a great job. He is a fabulous person, and nobody works harder or is more dedicated than Derek,” Fleming said. “He knows the game, and he is only going to get better.”
The Heartlanders had 51 players this season, which is typical of minor league franchises.
Damon said after getting off to a rough start while trying to put a first-year team together, the Heartlanders played much better in the second half and created a lot of enthusiasm in the community.
He added that Minnesota is a great organization to work for. The ECHL is the equivalent of baseball’s AA leagues.
Damon said he has an excellent support system in place that includes Minnesota Wild assistant general manager Michael Murray and Iowa Wild (AHL) head coach Tim Army, a former Providence College player and head coach.
“Mike Murray’s father, Bob, was my agent when I played. And Tim Army has had an incredible career as a coach so I’ve been able to lean on him. He’s been great,” Damon said.
Damon said being a coach and a general manager at the ECHL level will provide him with a terrific “training ground” because he is going to be involved in all aspects of the team.
“This is a great opportunity for coaches, players, trainers and equipment managers to get to the next level. Every day, you learn so much about the game,” he said.
He has been busy since the season ended.
“You have to be relentless as a coach and as a recruiter. I’ve been on the phone to agents every day [looking for players],” said Damon, who has three children with his wife Andrea.
Lewiston native Eric Michaud, who was a volunteer coach with the Maine Mariners this past season, has been hired to be a full-time assistant and video coordinator for Damon in Iowa.
Damon concluded his 14-year, 784-game professional career two years ago. His career included stints in five European countries along with the AHL and ECHL.
He was the associate coach and director of player development for the Salmon Arm Silverbacks in the British Columbia Junior Hockey League team in the 2020-21 season.
Heartlanders president Tom Hamilton said Damon is “not only an excellent coach and hockey mind, he and his entire family have already left a positive imprint in our communities. We could not feel better about the direction of our team with Derek at the helm.”