During hockey season, Denis Berube is always on call.
“My phone starts ringing generally on a Saturday morning fairly early,” Berube said.
He’s also receiving plenty of texts and emails from parents with questions, concerns and everything in between. As the president of Maine Gladiators youth hockey, it is Berube’s duty to always know what’s happening within the non-profit, volunteer-based organization.
The organization has a simple but effective mission.
“To provide kids with a fun atmosphere which they can learn to play and enjoy the game of hockey,” Berube said. “We provide opportunities for kids in the area to play.”
The Maine Gladiators cover the Lewiston and Auburn communities in southwest Maine. The organization has 610 participants ranging in age from 4 to 19, along with over 90 coaches. Berube is trying to help the organization continue to grow under his leadership. He’s had good fortunes in the past working with other local programs.
Berube originally started with the Auburn Youth Hockey organization in 1998 when his son, Matthew, got involved in the sport. He took over as the organization’s president in 2001, and served until 2013 when Auburn Youth Hockey merged with Lewiston Area Youth Hockey League to become the Twin City Titans. In 2015, the Titans merged with the Maine Gladiators — an organization Berube was a board member of since its founding around 2008. Berube took over as president of the Gladiators in June 2016.
Berube wears many hats when it comes to the Gladiators organization. But being the main liaison for the group is what he considers his most important role.
“I think one of the biggest things I have to do as president is to kind of keep things running smoothly,” Berube said. “Make sure there is peace and tranquility as best as we can. Ensuring that we have everything covered and decisions that are being made that are keeping with the best decisions for the overall goals of the organization.”
After Berube’s son got into hockey, he became more hands-on. Even though his son is now out of college and actually helping with the Gladiators program, Berube feels it’s important to stay involved at the youth hockey level.
“It’s been a lifelong passion,” Berube said. “I played when I was a kid starting at 4 years old and playing up on through. I’ve played men’s league recreationally all my life, so it’s something that’s been a passion of mine my whole life. I’ve always considered it part of giving back to the community and those that taught me when I was a kid. In our area, we have a pretty strong tradition.”
One of the most successful programs within the organization that Berube helps lead is Learn To Skate.
“Over the last three years, we’ve had 100-plus each year try hockey,” Berube said. “Many of which who have continued on in our program.”
Through a Dunkin’ Donuts sponsorship, Learn To Skate is free for participants. Kids aged 4 to 8 are taught the game and allowed to play up to three sessions before advancing to one of the teams within the organization.
Berube and the board members meet once a month and try to brainstorm new ideas to improve the program and the skaters.
“You’re always looking for innovations,” Berube said. “One of our biggest focuses recently has been on growing the girls program. In the state of Maine, we now have full-fledged girls high school [hockey] across the state. I think the girls now as they are growing up see the opportunity to play at that level. We’re working hard to try to build up our programs to offer girls hockey at not only the Tier II travel level, but making sure there are good opportunities for kids coming in at what we call the house level, Tier IV, as well.”
Girls participation in Learn To Skate is on the rise. Berube figures 20 to 25 percent of the skaters are young women who are just starting to learn the game.
“I think the numbers are growing because we offer a competitive program in our area at a real good price,” Berube said. “In our program, for instance, we have a summer camp that all the kids are able to participate in. As a member of the Gladiators, once you sign your initial deposit, we have a summer camp in August. It’s a week-long summer camp that includes not only skating, but dryland training.”
The Maine Gladiators use the Norway Savings Bank Arena in Auburn as their home ice. It’s the only venue in Maine with dual rinks. With numbers going up, ice space is shrinking. The organization also has other area rinks at its disposal if it is in need of locations because of large numbers.
Berube is only in his eighth month as the organization’s president, but he’s already had an impact. As the organization transitions into 2017, Berube said there are big things on the horizon that haven’t been announced. The Maine Gladiators started out the new year with the fourth annual Mite Jamboree Jan. 13-15. It consisted of 28 teams from around the state.
As Berube settles in to his role as president, he offers some advice for anyone in his position at a youth hockey organization.
“I would suggest the best thing you can do is have an overall understanding of the structure of the league relative to the greater organization where you fall,” Berube said. “For instance, for us where we fall in the context of Maine amateur hockey. As the president, what you’d have to do is be a sounding board for people — allow people to kind of take their ideas and frustrations on you and you can kind of translate that into programming and moving forward. You can’t always accommodate everybody’s needs, but oftentimes as you listen to people, you’ll come up with some gems that are important to remember.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.