December 15, 2009

Maineiacs turn to Houle

by Bill Keefe

For the second consecutive year, the Lewiston Maineiacs have made a mid-year coaching change.

Don MacAdam, who replaced Ed Harding (Gray, Maine) in January, was fired Thursday as Lewiston’s head coach and president with the Maineiacs in the midst of a 14-game losing streak. Also fired was assistant coach Jamie Dumont.

Jean-Francois (JF) Houle, in his seventh season as an assistant coach at Clarkson University and son of former Montreal Canadiens player Rejean Houle, has been named the new head coach.

Houle, 34, will join the team Thursday to observe its final game before the Christmas break at Drummondville. His first game behind the bench will be Dec. 27 at Victoriaville. This will be Houle’s first head coaching job. He is the Maineiacs’ fifth head coach in seven seasons in Lewiston.

“Like anybody else it is (nerve-wracking) a little bit,” Houle told the Lewiston Sun Journal. “I have confidence in my coaching ability, and I think I'm ready for the challenge. I've met with (owner) Mr. (Mark) Just and talked with him about the people in the office, and I'm pretty excited to meet everybody and looking forward to getting started and thankful for the opportunity.”

Jeff Guay (Lewiston, Maine) has been named interim head coach and he guided Lewiston in a 3-1 home loss to Cape Breton Sunday. Guay had been an assistant coach in each of the Maineiacs’ first six years in Lewiston before taking a leave of absence this season. Associate scout Tim Schurman is the interim assistant.

Houle told the Sun Journal that he wanted Guay to remain as first assistant.

Houle, a native of Lasalle, Quebec, played for Clarkson from 1993-1997 and helped lead the Golden Knights to three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. While known as a defensive forward, Houle still compiled 129 points in 143 career games. A co-captain as a senior, Houle helped lead Clarkson to a 95-39-12 record during his playing career.

Houle played five years of pro hockey in the ECHL and AHL before joining the Clarkson coaching staff in 2003.

“We are sorry to see JF leave, but this is a great opportunity for him to become a head coach,” said Clarkson head coach George Roll. “It has been a very enjoyable seven years with JF on our coaching staff. Not only is he a good hockey man, but he is also a great person who is well-respected at Clarkson as well as in the hockey community. We wish JF and his family the best.”

MacAdam took over Lewiston in January with a 14-32 record and the Maineiacs were tied for the second-worst record in the QMJHL. Lewiston went 8-11-1-2 the rest of the way and eked into the 16th and final playoff spot before being swept by Drummondville.

This year, Lewiston stood 10-8 on Nov. 4 after beating Montreal but hasn’t won since. The Maineiacs stood 10-21-0-1, the second-worst record in the league, when MacAdam was let go.

It was only in 2007 when Lewiston won the President’s Cup as QMJHL champions and appeared in the Memorial Cup.

Last year with the team struggling and attendance down, there was the coaching change and a publicly embarrassing aborted attempt to relocate the team to Boisbriand, Quebec. When the Maineiacs announced in March that they would remain in Lewiston, some serious fence mending was needed.

MacAdam seemed to embrace the community relations aspect of the job, putting players on the phones to season ticket holders to sell playoff tickets and making public appearances.

There was a slight uptick in attendance last year, but for the season, the average was 2,281 fans per game. Through 15 home games this year, the average is 1,850, fourth-lowest in the league.

When the team was in the relocation process last year, Just said the Maineiacs were built on a business model of an average attendance of 3,000. The Maineiacs’ peak was 2,712 in the championship season of 2007. It has never dipped below 2,000.

In addition to the coaching changes, Androscoggin Bank Colisee owner Jim Cain has been hired as the team's Executive Vice President of Club Operations.

Bill Keefe can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com.