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Teammates for Life: The couple behind Maine’s hockey family

The rush of practice had long since ended, but the University of Maine women’s ice hockey coaching staff remained out on the ice. Head Coach Richard Reichenbach along with the team’s two assistant coaches, his wife Sara Reichenbach and Kendall Newell were putting the finishing touches on a long day’s work.

Suddenly, out of the tunnel came third-year forward Abby Cook.

“Mia is walking!” was all that Cook said, proudly telling the Reichenbach’s that their daughter had taken her first steps in the locker room.

For many hockey teams, this would not be something that would ever be heard at the rink, but for the Black Bears, this is a common occurrence. They are more of a family than most teams can claim, and it all starts with the family at the top.

The Fam Jam

The Reichenbach’s and Newell, known to each other as “The Fam Jam,” must have balance between the family they have created on the ice and the family they have created at home.

Most of the time, they are very much the same, but it was not always that way.

Before coming to UMaine, both Sara Reichenbach and Richard Reichenbach had various different coaching jobs, both playing hockey at a high level beforehand.

Richard Reichenbach was a defenseman at Hamilton College, and played for one season in the Southern Professional Hockey League before deciding to hang up his skates to pursue his master’s degree at Cortland.

While at Hamilton, Richard Reichenbach was coached by school legend Phil Grady, and picked up some coaching philosophies along the way that he would eventually implement on his own team, even though he never had any intentions of coaching.

“He was very disciplined, hard work, no excuses type of guy, and he did a very remarkable job with the mental training and developing a specific culture that he wanted to implement,” Richard Reichenbach said.

Sara Reichenbach had a much different experience, playing on boys teams until she was 18. After that, she followed up a stint at Hebron Academy with a four-year run at St. Lawrence, where her team made two frozen four appearances in four years.

For Sara Reichenbach, coaching was always in the cards, unlike her husband. She assisted with hockey camps alongside college coaches after her freshman season, and knew right away that coaching was for her.

That would be how the two would meet for the first time.

Both were working as assistant coaches, Richard Reichenbach for Cortland and Sara Reichenbach for Dartmouth. They ended up at the same tournament, the Stoney Creek Tournament in Toronto, Canada.

They literally ran into each other for the first time on the first day of the tournament, in a break room for the coaches.

“She was doing that little dance you do when you’re in someone’s way,” Richard Reichenbach said with a smile, producing a giggle from his wife. “We did that three times that morning.”

Eventually that led to watching the games together, and the exchange of phone numbers followed. They began a long distance relationship, meeting while recruiting here and there.

They were eventually reunited when Sara Reichenbach rejoined the coaching staff at Maine after leaving Maine in 2009 for a three-year assignment at Dartmouth.

“Well, obviously I came back for love,” Sara Reichenbach said looking over at her husband, who had been working at Maine for three years when she joined the staff. “Coming back to a place where I felt at home, it was a no brainer…Ricky was a big part of it but I came back because this is where I belong.”

After a few years, the Reichenbach’s became the team’s coaching leadership, and began to develop the program into the tight-knit group they are today.

A Family Program

Trust. Honesty. Loyalty. Passion and dedication.

These are some of the core values that the players and coaches cherish and weave into the fabric of the Maine hockey experience.

For Richard Reichenbach, family was always a part of his hockey culture, while Sara Reichenbach’s familial experience came from having a large family growing up.

“I think family for me was a large part of my playing experience. Although was a very different approach, it was a theme and that’s what made it so special for me,” Richard Reichenbach said.

“I don’t think I’ve been on a team that is this family oriented,” Sara Reichenbach added. “I think I got my family thing from my family. I have a pretty big family; a lot of love, a lot of support.”

Newell adds another layer to the program’s coaching staff, and according to the Reichenbach’s, has gone all-in on the philosophy.

“Kendall [Newell] gives us legitimacy. Otherwise we’re just the weird couple who coaches the team,” Richard Reichenbach said.

That “weird couple” had to put in some serious work to cultivate the culture they have now. Initially, it meant breaking down the typical player-coach relationship.

“There is family, but a hockey family is very different in the culture of hockey. We really had to break that down and rethink people,” Richard Reichenbach said on his program’s origins. “It gets easier every year because the upperclassmen, are like ‘we love this, this is how we want it to be, and the freshman know this is how it is.’”

Since trust and honesty are a couple of the program’s key values, the Reichenbach’s began to have dozens of individual meetings a day, to get the players comfortable with talking to them.

“It’s the communication and the trust that we have for each other,” Richard Reichenbach said. “The more information the players and coaches have it’s better for our goals and program but it also creates that family atmosphere.”

This open communication has allowed the coaches to be themselves around the players and vice versa, which allows everyone to be themselves.

“We want our kids to know who we are and appreciate who we are as people just as much as coaches. That’s a unique atmosphere and it’s special,” Sara Reichenbach said.

“[The players] are able to come to us and the conversations we have as a staff with each other is what separates us,” Richard Reichenbach added. “We try to keep everything on the table with our staff and with our players.”

Now, the players are not afraid to hold anything back, especially the upperclassmen and the leadership group. The dialogue is open, which helps when there are 27 very different people playing on one team.

All being on the same page has created a cohesive unit that is very attractive to many young players who are looking to break onto the division one scene.

Alyson Matteau, a first-year defenseman for the Black Bears, cites the team’s atmosphere as one of the main reasons she decided to play at Maine.

“[With the coaches] There’s a time to be serious and there’s a time that you can talk about anything at all,” Matteau said. “I’ve been with some coaches that you’re scared to talk to. We’re all pretty close too…it’s like a big family.”

The six other members of Matteau’s class have been quickly adopted into the Maine hockey family, according to the defenseman.

“We don’t feel like we’re new, we just feel like it’s one family,” Matteau said on their transition to the team.

The Reichenbach’s had to perform a whole new transition when Mia Reichenbach came along, adding to the list of new teammates.

The Perfect Team

Starting a family of their own had always been in the cards for the Reichenbach’s, who had originally looked for a school that would allow them to have a family while still coaching at a high level.

“We’re really happy that Maine decided to be the one to let us do it,” Richard Reichenbach said on starting a family and coaching. “It was going to happen and we talked about if it couldn’t we would go somewhere else. Were very grateful our bosses did that for us, hopefully we make them proud.”

Spending 70-80 hours a week on the job might seem like it would be a barrier to any relationship, but the two have embraced their situation and made the best out of it.

While being together all the time might seem like it would be stressful, the Reichenbach’s barely have any time to spend together as husband and wife, rather than coach and assistant coach.

“It went from a long distance relationship where you would see each other once every two weeks, to seeing each other every day,” Richard Reichenbach said. “There are some days where we don’t even have 5 minutes to spend together.”

This means the occasional movie on Tuesday afternoons when they have an early morning practice, but other than that, their family time is reserved for the few hours when their 14 month old is awake.

“We’re together every minute of the day but literally only married for just two hours. Maybe for the two hours Mia is up, but after that it’s back to work mode,” Sara Reichenbach said.

During the day, the couple’s focus is on the players, whether that means looking at film, having meetings or getting extra ice time. The night time is reserved for the coaches’ other work, like answering emails and talking to recruits.

It also improved communication between the coaches, due to the fact that they live together. If they ever have questions or ideas, they are right there to bounce them off each other.

“We can talk about things that we need to talk about,” Sara Reichenbach said. “I feel like If I was a mom and my husband wasn’t the head coach, it would be even harder. We’re always together, so we can always talk about anything.”

Aside from all of their work for the team, they still have to accommodate Mia Reichenbach, which proved to be a relatively easy task.

“Well in her first year of life she saw more hockey than almost anyone else because all last year she either had babysitters or she was sleeping in the office,” Richard Reichenbach said.

She would also be taken around the rink by players who were injured or not in the lineup. This would allow Sara Reichenbach and Richard Reichenbach to have some time to take care of their day-to-day tasks.

It has also made them more relaxed with the baby, as she can disappear for a few hours when different players take their turn carrying her. Even friends of the players have been seen holding her during the team’s home games.

When the team is on the road, Mia Reichenbach comes with them and is just as much a part of the team as any other player.

“She was around the girls so much and they were pretty amazing. She’s so comfortable around people,” Richard Reichenbach said. “Were so lucky that she has 27 role models and big sisters this year.”

“I love coaching so much and luckily she’s been a big part of that,” Sara Reichenbach added. “I think this job has given her so many amazing experiences and memories and I feel like she’s a huge part of it which makes me feel pretty good…I feel like it’s not just my job and then there’s Mia, they’re intertwined.”

The Reichenbach’s look to remain intertwined in the Maine hockey program for as long as they can, looking to continue building their family on and off the ice.

Nothing has detracted from their relationship either, and no losing streak or major injury can shake their attitudes or feeling towards each other as teammates for life.

“I think Ricky is a very kind person,” Sara Reichenbach said. “He does these little things every day that he knows make me happy like emptying the dishwasher…But he does it because he knows it makes me happy.”

“That’s just part of being a good teammate,” Richard Reichenbach replied with a smile.

“I’d say Ricky is a pretty good teammate.”

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