ORONO – Maine men’s hockey returned to practice after dropping both of its games vs. University of Nebraska at Omaha. The team continues to adjust to the new system, but a former player, now volunteer coach, has brought a familiar presence to the Black Bears staff.
They may not have known he was coming…
“I remember the first skate guys were looking at me, had to do double takes,” said Danny Perez, volunteer skills coach for Maine hockey.
But when members of Maine hockey saw a familiar face re-take the Alfond ice with a whistle around his neck, the reaction was heartfelt.
“Elation. I don’t know. It was like reuniting with a brother, cause we were really good buddies when he played here,” said Maine fifth-year senior defenseman Cam Spicer.
Throughout his time playing for the Black Bears, Danny Perez left an indelible mark both on the ice and in the locker room.
“It’s a true blessing. Danny was one of the best leaders I’ve ever played with for two years here. I’m lucky to have had him as a teammate and as a coach now,” Spicer said.
Now, after two years playing on the pro hockey circuit, Perez returns to his alma mater, this time as a volunteer skills coach under head coach Ben Barr.
“Its really important to have someone like him who can go out and work on whatever skill somebody wants to work on for twenty minutes once or twice extra a week,” Barr said.
Perez graduated in 2019, so there’s still eight current Black Bears that skated alongside him during his playing days in Orono.
“You gotta kind of turn the page, and he’s done that. It hasn’t really been an issue for him. I’m sure there are times when it’s weird where he still feels like a college kid and he wants to go do college kid things with the guys,” Barr said.
While his visits to the Orono House of Pizza may come earlier in the night these days, that history and those relationships have been an asset in his new role.
“There’s mutual respect shown to each of us and they know that I’m on this side of things now., it’s definitely a different dynamic but it’s perfectly fine and normal. I like it because now you can have honest conversations with them, and they don’t feel like they’re getting attacked and we can have good discourse,” Perez said.