Whitehead Coaches Amid Tragic Circumstances
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
ST. LOUIS Tim Whitehead came to St. Louis hoping to put to rest, once and for all, any questions about his coaching — as if that is needed.
Instead, he coached Thursday afternoon's 4-2 loss under a cloud of tragedy.
Whitehead found out hours before the game that his mother-in-law, 57-year old Debra Smith, was killed in a car accident on the way to the game. According to reports, she was the passenger in the car driven by her husband. They were on the highway, on their way to St. Louis from Ohio for the game. Her husband suffered non-life-threatening injuries, according to the reports.
Whitehead, who declined comment on the matter, told the team after the game.
It obviously makes questions about Whitehead — a coach who has been to four Frozen Fours in six years, for crying out loud, but not won a title — and his coaching, pale in comparison.
Instead, Whitehead will move on, and assuredly come back to this point another season, perhaps with a clearer head and another shot at it.
"It's a fascinating game, the game of hockey," Whitehead said after winning the NCAA Regional in Rochester 11 days ago. "Former assistant coach, Nate Leaman, once told me after we lost to Denver (in the 2004 title game) something that really meant a lot to me. He said, 'You know, I was on that (Maine) staff in '99 (when Maine defeated UNH in OT for the title), and to be honest, we could've lost that championship at any moment many times.' But he said, 'Just keep getting there and good things are going to happen.' And that meant a lot to me. I have a lot of respect for Nate and we share a common bond there, having been assistant coaches at Maine and becoming good friends.
"So that's how we look at it. We want to give our players those opportunities to play in those type of tournaments and eventually — I think good things will continue to happen and hopefully bring another championship back to Maine."
Whitehead coached the 2002 NCAA championship game with the specter of late coach Shawn Walsh hanging over the proceedings in St. Paul. In that game, Maine let a lead slip away in the last minute of regulation, then lost on a power-play goal in overtime.
The Black Bears came close again in 2004, losing 1-0 to Denver after a goal was disallowed along the way. Denver killed a 6-on-3 in the last minute to hold on.
"It's more of an inspiration than anything for me," Whitehead said, ruminating on the ghosts of Shawn Walsh. "I always set the bar pretty high for myself and my teams. And following in Shawn's footsteps forces me to keep the bar very high, so I think it's a very good thing for our program. And having been his assistant and being a good friend of his, I'm just proud that we've been able to help his legacy continue to grow. We have his Shawn Walsh Center where we train every day and that means an awful lot to our program.
"We've only had three coaches — Jack Semler started the whole thing at Maine. People forget all the contributions he made. He was a wonderful coach and the players he coached can't say enough good things about him. He's just a wonderful person and tremendous coach. That's when the Tortorellas were there and things first went from club to Division III to Division I."