ORONO – He had a big smile and the exuberance of seven-year-old who had just discovered his first bicycle under the Christmas tree.
University of Maine hockey coach Shawn Walsh, directing his first practice after serving a one-year suspension for his role in a variety of NCAA violations, shook hands with virtually all of his players as they filed past him to get onto the Alfond Arena surface here Christmas night.
He mistook a few of the freshmen, which was understandable since he has never coached them.
Fifty-six fans showed up to show their support for Walsh and catch a glimpse of his first practice.
The 41-year-old coach addressed the team briefly before they took the ice.
He admitted that he will be a little rusty and he may struggle with the names early; he gave them a motivational speech calling for siminames early; he gave them a motivational speech calling for similar performances to the ones they exhibited over the weekend in winning the J.C. Penney Hockey Classic and he told them they would be clean-shaven and wearing suits and ties when they board the plane for the Norwest Denver Cup Tournament on Thursday. He said they will carry themselves with “class.”
The first practice for the players was memorable as Walsh put them through a rapid hour and a half workout.
“The pace was a lot quicker and he makes you feel more confident on the ice,” said junior left winger Scott Parmentier.
“We were flying for the first hour. Then it hit us,” said freshman right wing Cory Larose. “He doesn’t waste any time. You go from one drill right to the next. It’s going to take a little time to get used to it.”
Larose said the pace of the practice combined with his three days off left him sucking wind.
Another person making the adjustment to Walsh is first-year graduate assistant coach Bernie Sandford.
“It has gone well so far,” said Sandford. “He’s real good at letting everybody know what we are doing and what needs to be done. There are no misunderstandings.”
The veteran players commended interim head coach Greg Cronin and assistant Grant Standbrook for the jobs they did coaching them in Walsh’s absence.
“It should be an easy transition for the veteran players because the systems stayed the same,” said senior left wing and captain Reg Cardinal. “The younger players will have to adjust to the change in personalities. Coach Walsh will really concentrate on the little things, the fundamentals.”
“I have heard so much good about him as a coach,” said freshman center-winger Ben Guite. “If he has the same affect on us as he had on previous Maine teams and with our enthusiasm right now after just beating Princeton pretty easily , we could be pretty good. We could do a lot of damage.”
Junior defenseman Jeff Libby said having Walsh back gives the Bears some “stability” and junior goalie Javier Gorriti, even though he was cut by Walsh in training camp a few years ago, is also looking forward to his return.
“He just wants to win games and he will do whatever it takes to win,” said Gorriti, who has become the No. 1 goalie.
Among the spectators happy to see Walsh back was Earl Shermerhorn, father of Maine senior center Dan Shermerhorn. Earl Shermerhorn has been visiting his son for the past week.
“I think it’s a great thing. He’ll do a good job. Dan couldn’t wait to get to the rink tonight,” said Earl Shermerhorn, who lives in Calgary.