On Monday, the University of Maine removed the “interim” tag from coach Tim Whitehead’s title.
On Friday, the nation’s hockey coaches confirmed that UMaine’s decision was a good one: Whitehead was named the winner of the 2002 Spencer Penrose Award, which goes to the nation’s top Division I hockey coach.
George Gwozdecky, the head coach at the University of Denver, was this year’s runner-up.
The Spencer Penrose award is chosen by members of the American Hockey Coaches Association, and the award will be handed out at the organization’s annual banquet. That banquet is set for April 27 in Naples, Fla.
Whitehead credited the entire coaching staff – assistants Grant Standbrook, Campbell Blair and Matt Thomas – and the Black Bears for the award.
“I’ve been an assistant coach, and I’ve been a head coach. It’s a team effort,” he said. “You don’t have a strong season like we had this year unless you’re on the same page, and we were on the same page.”
Whitehead was hand-picked by former coach Shawn Walsh to come to Orono and handle the team during times when his battle with cancer prevented him from doing so.
When Walsh died on Sept. 24, Whitehead took over the program with the “interim” title … and led them to the NCAA championship game.
The Black Bears lost that game to Minnesota in a 4-3 overtime thriller in St. Paul, Minn., on April 6. Two days later, UMaine director of athletics Sue Tyler announced that the school had received a waiver that allowed it to hire Whitehead on a permanent basis without conducting the customary national search and interview process.
On Friday, initial attempts to reach Whitehead at his home were unsuccessful. As of 6 p.m., he still hadn’t returned home from work, his wife Dena reported with a laugh.
“Next season started on Monday,” Dena Whitehead said.
Tim Whitehead returned a call at 7:15, and admitted he was still at his Alfond Arena office.
“We’re still stinging from that game, so we’re poring over some recruiting tapes,” he said. “Monday night after [the welcome-home celebration] Grant and I were up here looking at tapes [until 10 p.m.], looking at tapes of some future Black Bears. We’re pretty hungry to avenge that loss.”
To that end, Whitehead said, he’s happy that his staff will stay largely intact. The Bears will lose Thomas, who served as a volunteer coach this year. Whitehead said he and Standbrook are working the phones, trying to help Thomas find a paid position.
“I’m just thrilled to have Grant and Campbell coming back,” Whitehead said. “We just wish there was some way we could convince Mattie that he doesn’t need to get paid.”
Whitehead led the Bears to a 26-11-7 mark this season. He compiled a 76-95-12 record in five years as a head coach at UMass-Lowell before heading to Orono. He also served as an assistant coach at Maine in 1990-91 and as an assistant at Lowell under Bruce Crowder.
While at Lowell, Whitehead was a finalist for the Spencer Penrose Award in 1997 and in 2001.
The 40-year-old Whitehead graduated from Hamilton College in 1985 with a bachelors degree in government and received a masters in education from UMaine in 1991.
Whitehead becomes the second coach in UMaine history to win the Spencer Penrose Award. Walsh won the award in 1995. The award has been given each year since 1951, and is named in honor of the Colorado Springs benefactor who built the Broadmoor Hotel Complex, home of the first 10 NCAA hockey championships.