Maine, Whitehead Talks a Statement of Support
by Matthew Conyers/CHN Staff Writer
DETROIT Maine athletic director Blake James and coach Tim Whitehead both said at the Frozen Four last weekend that a contract extension for Whitehead is expected and should be finalized during the off-season.
It's a milestone move that puts to rest rampant, though unfounded, speculation on Whitehead's future.
“Bottom line, I’m real excited that our coaching staff has the full support of our administration, the president, the athletic director and right on down,” Whitehead said. “We haven’t really discussed it to be honest other than that they are going to extend our contract, which is great. Our staff is just so excited about the future of our program and continuing the progress we have made this year. We feel we are very close to getting back on the national level on a consistent basis.”
Both declined to put a specific date on when the deal could become official.
“We’re going to have Tim Whitehead as our coach next year and for the foreseeable future,” James said. “I think there are great days coming for Maine hockey.”
The 48-year old Whitehead has led the Black Bears to four Frozen Fours in nine years and six NCAA tournament appearances. But the Black Bears have missed the last three NCAA tournaments.
“We didn’t have a lot of conversation through the year [about the contract],” James said. “He was obviously very focused on getting this program to where he wants it to be and where I want it to be. I’ve said it all a long: no one wants to see Maine hockey win more than Tim Whitehead. And I believe that.”
On March 26, the school released word that contract talks were ongoing. James says the delay in an official announcement has nothing to do with any problems with the contract itself.
“From time the season has ended to today, there has been a lot of running,” James said. “[Whitehead] has been out finding players and I've been running an athletic department; we have a lot of things going on. Outside of the initial discussion of sitting down and agreeing to an extension, we just haven’t been able to work out the details.”
Whitehead’s contract runs out at the end of the season — he earns in excess of $155,000 per year.
Excitement is high at Maine, where it is coming off its best season — a 19-17-3 record and runner-up finish in the Hockey East tournament — since 2006-07.
“I was very pleased with the progress we made this year,” James said. “I’m excited about where the future is. I think we have a very bright future and a big, big part of the credit goes to coach Whitehead and obviously the players on the team go out and perform and he has great assistant coaches. We’re very happy with the progress and I’d be very surprised if we’re not in a position to be in St. Paul [the site of the 2011 Frozen Four] next year.”
The Black Bears missed the NCAA Tournament by just one game after losing to Boston College 7-6 in overtime in the Hockey East tournament championship.
“It was very inspiring,” Whitehead said. “We had to fight through a lot of stuff this year and more injuries I can remember for a while — real serious injuries to key players. And we just seemed to get stronger as the year went on and anything that happened to the team everyone pulled together closer. I was very impressed with the leadership of our seniors and juniors. ... It was inspiring to see their ability to rise up every time they got knocked down. They rose up fighting harder than before and that’s a great trait to have in a team and a building block.”
Not only bolstered by their run to the Hockey East Finals, the Black Bears are energized by the return of Hobey Baker Finalist Gustav Nyquist. Over the Frozen Four weekend in Detroit, Nyquist confirmed that he would be back for his junior season with the Black Bears.
“For a player of his talent and his ability to make the commitment to come back next year is very heartwarming for all of us in the Maine hockey family and a nice statement for the tightness of the team right now and program,” Whitehead said.
Nyquist agrees with this sentiment and believes its one of the reasons he made the decision to return.
“Our whole crew is coming back — we lose four seniors which is tough — but we have a great group coming back and that is the most important thing,” Nyquist said. “We’re having fun as a team and we’re just a great group. I definitely don’t want to miss out on next year and its going to be a great year.”
Needless to say, the Black Bears feel extremely confident with the product it will put out next season and have high expectations for a return to the tournament play.
“What were most excited about as a coaching staff is that the culture of Maine hockey is back where it was two years ago when we were finishing such a great run of nine years,” Whitehead said. “That’s the most excited part for us because we know if you have the culture and the work ethic and the focus from your student athletes on a consistent basis and your leaders are leading by example then you know you’re going to have a strong team. ... We took a step this year but we have several more steps to make to get back to where we want to be.”