Ben Guite knows he’s one of the lucky ones. Guite appeared in 175 NHL games for Boston, Colorado, and Nashville, totaling 19 goals and 26 assists. Guite played for seven AHL teams, including Providence, to earn a reputation as a dependable professional forward.
But like the majority of pro hockey players, Guite knew he’d need a job after his playing career was over.
Unemployment was not a plight Guite suffered for long.
Less than six months removed from his final appearance as a hockey player, Guite has transitioned into the next stage of his career as an assistant coach at the University of Maine. Guite was a four-year player at Maine between 1996 and 2000. As a junior, Guite helped lead Maine to the NCAA championship.
“The fact I was able to get this job right out of playing, I’m extremely fortunate,” said Guite, an assistant for first-year head coach Red Gendron. “For players who think about retiring and being prepared for it, it’s not an easy process to think about hanging up the skates. It’s something you’ve been doing since you were 5, 6 years old. But it’s going to come. Everybody is going to face that reality. To step into this position is incredible.”
For some players, transitioning from hockey to another career is scarier than entering the on-ice danger areas. Athletes encounter their professional mortality decades before doctors and teachers cede their stethoscopes and lesson plans. Ex-Bruins such as Tomas Kaberle, Wade Redden, and Steve Begin, who are currently unsigned, might be spending more time fretting over their next professions than they’d care to consider.
Those players are expecting NHL pensions. There are far more fringe professionals, juniors, and collegians without a single game of NHL experience or a big league paycheck in their accounts.
Life after hockey can be a terrifying reality. In the AHL rooms, where pluggers outnumber future NHL stars, Guite recalled an undercurrent of anxiety. Guys didn’t always talk about their concerns. But the worries existed. Hockey lifers worried about how they would fill their schedules as well as their portfolios.
“That thought was with me my entire career,” Guite said. “I never took hockey for granted. I definitely didn’t think I’d make it to the NHL. I’m very fortunate to get there.”
Last year, Guite played for Italy’s Val Pusteria. Teammates included former NHL goalie Jean-Sebastian Aubin and Keith Seabrook, younger brother of Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook. The club is based in Bruneck, an Alpine town in northern Italy. Bruneck is closer to Salzburg than it is to Milan.
Guite, his wife, and two children enjoyed the season in Italy. Guite had five goals and 21 assists. Away from the rink, the Montreal native quickly learned the significance of Sundays in Italy.
“Everything’s closed,” Guite said. “Sunday is like nuclear warfare. Everyone is hunkered down, off the streets, with their families. It’s a different pace of life. Consider what we have in the US. You go down the street and get a loaf of bread you forgot to pick up on Saturday. In Italy, you’re not going to get anything until Monday.”
A return to Italy remained under consideration. Guite turned 35 last month.
But for the last several years, coaching had appealed to Guite. During stops in Worcester, Springfield, and Milwaukee, Guite discovered an identity as a mentor to younger players. Guite enjoyed passing on his knowledge and serving as a de facto assistant. Some of the current NHLers Guite played alongside include ex-collegians with New England ties: Colin Wilson (Nashville, Boston University) and Cam Atkinson (Columbus, Boston College).
In 2012, Guite participated in the NHL Draft coaching clinic in Pittsburgh. During previous offseasons, Guite worked at hockey camps in Orono and Providence.
Guite has no formal coaching experience. It was Guite’s Maine ties that made his résumé stand out when it arrived on Gendron’s desk.
Guite’s father is Pierre Guite, a former WHA veteran. The elder Guite played major junior. It was a route he did not prefer for his son. So with his parents’ approval, Ben Guite arrived in Orono in 1996. Guite earned his undergraduate degree in English in 2000. In 2009, Guite was back in Orono to secure his master’s in business administration. It took Guite six years to secure his MBA. Guite took online courses during hockey season and classes during the summer.
“In hockey, you have a lot of time to do something,” Guite said. “For me, it was nice going away from the rink and not think about the game. The game can be a little overwhelming, especially when it’s not going well.”
Guite’s mission, along with Gendron and fellow assistant Jay Leach, is to restore the program that flourished under the stewardship of Shawn Walsh, Grant Standbrook, and Tim Whitehead’s first years. The former Hockey East powerhouse failed to qualify for the NCAA Tournament in five of the last six seasons.
It will not be an easy rebuild. Maine recruits against traditional powers BC, BU, and the University of New Hampshire. UMass-Lowell advanced to the Frozen Four last year under second-year coach Norm Bazin. Prospective collegians usually consider major junior as well. When he’s recruiting, Guite will tell his story. Guite played college hockey for four seasons. He met future wife Kristen in Orono. Guite played with Patrice Bergeron in Providence during the 2004-05 lockout. Guite made it to the NHL. Now he has a Division 1 coaching job.
“The only guys who went to major junior who say they wouldn’t do it differently are guys in the NHL,” Guite said. “Guys in the American League for 6-7 years, they might say they’d rather go to college if they could do it all over again. By the same token, I never heard guys who’d gone to college say, ‘If I could do it all over again, I’d go major junior.’ If you’re going to make it, you’re going to make it.”
PUNCHING IT UP
Game explores fight culture
As homework for the upcoming release of NHL 14, EA Sports producers tapped a fighting expert: George Parros. During a meeting in Los Angeles, the Montreal tough guy provided insight on fighting’s nuances.
On Sept. 10, Parros’s insight will be on display when the game debuts for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. A new feature is the Enforcer Engine. It is EA Sports’s attempt to capture the complexity of fighting.
In previous iterations, fights were standalone events. One player could pick a fight with another player for no reason.
“You could go tap anybody on the shoulder and start a fight,” said producer Sean Ramjagsingh. “It was a straight fight. We’d take all the players off the ice and off the bench and cut to the fight at center ice in a first-person camera view.”
What was lacking was the buildup. In the NHL, fights do not happen without reason. A grinder takes a run at a star. A tough guy whose team is down wants to spark his teammates. A previous wrong — think of Shawn Thornton calling on Matt Cooke after his hit on Marc Savard — must be righted. The upcoming release promises to explore those layers of fighting.
“We’re telling the story of why it happens,” Ramjagsingh said. “In NHL 14, if you go after a star player like [Sidney] Crosby or [Pavel] Datsyuk, you’d expect in real hockey, if a tough guy is on the ice, he will challenge the player to fight, letting them know it’s not OK to go after a superstar. The second part is to replicate why other fights happen. There’s the staged fight. You tap somebody. ‘Want to fight?’ Those break out. Also the hockey code we talk about. If you do things like take a run at the goalie, poke at the goalie, shoot the puck after the whistle, you expect someone on the other team to tap you on the shoulder and ask you to go.”
In the game, players will display the trappings of a scrap — bruises, black eyes — as a fight progresses. Players can also suffer injuries during fights.
The feature underscores that hockey can be a brutal sport. It could cause parents to be concerned about their kids playing a game that showcases fighting.
“It’s about the authenticity part of it,” Ramjagsingh said. “Right now, it’s an authentic part of real hockey. We’re trying to replicate the real world. With NHL 14, we’re trying to educate why fights happen and why it’s part of hockey.”
Pietrangelois in limbo
With training camp a month away, up-and-coming defenseman Alex Pietrangelo remains unsigned. The 23-year-old is coming out of his entry-level contract with the Blues. The right-shot Pietrangelo projects to be one of the NHL’s best defensemen, if he doesn’t already qualify. Last year, Pietrangelo had five goals and 19 assists in 47 games. He averaged 25:06 of ice time per game, most on the St. Louis roster. Pietrangelo’s most desirable comparable is Drew Doughty. The Los Angeles defenseman, drafted second overall in 2008 (two spots ahead of Pietrangelo), signed an eight-year, $56 million blockbuster after the expiration of his entry-level deal. The more applicable comparable is Zach Bogosian, the No. 3 pick in 2008. Bogosian signed a seven-year, $36 million extension with Winnipeg last month. On the flip side, neither Pietrangelo nor agent Don Meehan want to see a repeat of P.K. Subban’s situation with Montreal. Subban, also a Meehan client, held out at the start of 2013. Then Subban signed a two-year, $5.75 million bridge contract. Based on the marketplace, Subban, the reigning Norris Trophy winner, is worth at least double his $2.875 million average annual value. Pietrangelo can’t afford to hold out. The Blues are entering a critical season in their transition from young bucks into a club that should contend for a top playoff seed. Pietrangelo is also in the running for an Olympic roster spot for Team Canada in a group that includes Doughty and Subban. If a bridge deal is the only alternative, Pietrangelo needs to accept it.
Edmonton coach Dallas Eakins was scheduled to participate in Saturday’s 20th edition of the Leadville Trail 100 MTB race. Leadville, as its followers call it, is an all-day 100-mile mountain bike race in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. The race is feared as one of the toughest athletic events in the world. Participants include former road racers Lance Armstrong and Levi Leipheimer. Last year, Eakins completed the race in 11 hours and 3 seconds. It’s proof that NHL coaches are as driven as they are cuckoo.
The Bruins will most likely name their new director of amateur scouting this month. Keith Gretzky is the primary candidate to replace Wayne Smith, who was fired after the draft. The revamped department will expand its footprint. In retrospect, the Bruins trained their sights on Ontario at the cost of other regions. “We will branch out more,” general manager Peter Chiarelli said. “It’s no stones left unturned. We’re on a new horizon with younger players. We have to make sure the pipelines keep coming.”
Next Ottawa captain?
After longtime captains depart, some teams prefer to leave the position vacant for one season. Considering the abruptness of Daniel Alfredsson’s decision to bolt from Ottawa to sign with Detroit, it’s a good bet the Senators will name a captain for 2013-14. Jason Spezza played in only five games last season because of a back injury. But Spezza, an alternate captain, is the primary candidate to be promoted. Chris Phillips and Chris Neil should be the alternates. Spezza, Ottawa’s No. 1 center, is healthy and projected to play alongside ex-Duck Bobby Ryan.
Jarome Iginla (No. 12) and Loui Eriksson (No. 21) have requested to continue wearing their previous numbers in Boston. Both players should have their requests approved. Brian Rolston and Andrew Ference were the last Bruins to wear the numbers, respectively . . . Tampa Bay made an unusual hire. The Lightning landed former University of Denver coach George Gwozdecky to serve as an assistant coach to Jon Cooper. This will be Gwozdecky’s first pro gig. Gwozdecky coached at Miami and Michigan State before arriving in Denver in 1994. Gwozdecky was replaced by former Maine standout Jim Montgomery . . . It’s been a good offseason for Dan Bylsma. Pittsburgh extended Bylsma for two more seasons. USA Hockey named Bylsma the head coach for the 2014 Olympics. Imagine the bounties Bylsma would have accumulated had the Penguins won a game during the Eastern Conference finals . . . Shawn Thornton will hold his fourth annual Putts & Punches for Parkinson’s Golf Tournament fund-raiser on Monday at Ferncroft Country Club in Middleton. The event will benefit the Shawn Thornton Foundation. Proceeds will go to the American Parkinson Disease Association and the Boston Bruins Foundation. For more information, visit www.thorntonfoundation.org . . . Patrice Bergeron (lung, ribs, shoulder) and Gregory Campbell (leg) are progressing in their recoveries. Both should be ready for training camp . . . Nice to see Jacques Martin back in the game. Pittsburgh hired the former Montreal coach as an assistant to Bylsma on Friday. Among Martin’s selling points is his ability to speak French with Marc-Andre Fleury and Kris Letang. Both Fleury and Letang showed cracks in the playoffs. It can only help to have a native speaker on board . . . A five-minute major penalty is not a stiff enough punishment for the walking-and-smartphoning crowd. Nothing worse than the glacier-paced swipers and texters causing pileups on sidewalks, escalators, and stairways. It is a blessing the ice remains device-free for players to skate in peace. It’s likely, however, that fleeter teammates itched to slash Jaromir Jagr when he labored in their paths. Given his pace, Jagr might have been downloading apps while skating toward the net.