It has been nearly 20 years since Eric Soltys was an assistant hockey coach at the University of Maine.
This season the Needham, Massachusetts, native will be back with the Black Bears, replacing Matthew Vanden Berg, who left to become an assistant coach with the Penticton Vees of the British Columbia Junior Hockey League.
“It is an honor and a privilege to be back in Orono,” said the 47-year-old Soltys. “I am super excited about it. When I was here last time [in 2004-05], it was such a special environment. I was able to learn from some special people.”
Soltys has known UMaine head coach Ben Barr for more than two decades. Soltys joined Shattuck-St. Mary’s School in Faribault, Minnesota, as an assistant coach in December of Barr’s senior year there.
“So when the opportunity came to be with Ben, it was a no-brainer for me,” Soltys said.
The former goalie has an extensive resume that includes coaching, scouting and stints as a general manager. He was the GM for the Maine Nordiques’ North American Hockey League and 18-under AAA teams this past season.
He has spent 13 seasons as a scout, including gigs with the NHL’s Calgary Flames, where he scouted amateur players, including those in college, and the Detroit Red Wings, where he evaluated pro players.
Barr said Soltys primary responsibility will be recruiting.
“He was an NHL scout for a long time. He has recruited at a lot of different levels, and he is really good at it,” Barr said. It will also give Barr and assistants Jason Fortier and Alfie Michaud more time to be on the ice with the players, he said.
“He’s a great person. We’re super excited to have him,” Barr said.
Soltys considers recruiting to be his “biggest asset” and said he has been able to learn from top-notch recruiters such former UMaine assistant Grant Standbrook, who received the Terry Flanigan Award in 2005 for his career work as an assistant coach.
Soltys said he prides himself in finding talented players who are also quality people that fit into a team culture.
Soltys said UMaine has a lot to offer a recruit. At the top of the list is the coaching staff.
He pointed out that Barr has recruited players for three NCAA championship teams at Union, Providence and UMass; Fortier is outstanding with video and is very detail-oriented; and Michaud is a top-notch goalie instructor.
He also noted that the staff has already made a significant impact in “a short period of time,” improving by eight wins from Barr’s first year to his second year last season.
Renovations to the arena will also aid the recruiting effort, Soltys said.
Soltys has spent a lot of time in Orono in recent years since he was based in Lewiston and has been impressed with the work ethic of the players and the culture that has been developed.
“Everyone has an all-in attitude,” he said.