In a span of three years, Terrence Wallin has gone from player to assistant coach to head coach.
Call him Mr. Maine Mariner.
More accurately, Mr. Maine Mariner, Generation 2.0. The youngest current ECHL head coach, Wallin, 30, is on his way to what he hopes is a long career behind the bench. He retired at age 28 after a five-year professional playing career, feeling a call to coach and the reality of his career trajectory.
“I felt more potential in my life coaching than I did as a player,” he said. “I loved playing, but I love to teach, too.”
Real quick — most longtime Mainers know, but for the uninitiated, why Gen 2.0?
The original Mariners, a member of the American Hockey League (AHL) with an infamous orange and black logo, called the Cumberland County Civic Center, now Cross Insurance Arena, home from 1977-1992. Then we had the Portland Pirates, also in the AHL, from 1993-2016. The AHL is one step below the best hockey league in the world, the National Hockey League (NHL).
Today’s Mariners — the ones with blue, green and silver uniforms — play in the ECHL, two rungs below the NHL. The new Mariners began play in 2018, but missed part of the 2019-20 and the entire 2020-21 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. An assistant captain in the team’s first season and on the roster as a player or coach ever since, Wallin, native of Yardley, Pennsylvania, played his college hockey at UMass-Lowell. After five years as a pro and getting as high as the AHL, he retired. There were no major injuries that forced him into retirement. In fact, Wallin said he could still play at this level. He got to the AHL but didn’t get an AHL contract the next year, a sign Wallin took as an opportunity to get into coaching.
During his last year as a player, he founded Evolution Hockey, a skills-development program. He then joined the Maine Evolution youth hockey program as the organization’s travel director and director of skill development. Wallin joined the Mariners staff ahead of last season as an assistant, and would’ve been there the year before if the Mariners played. After a year as an assistant, Wallin took over as head coach when Ben Guite left for Bowdoin, and quickly shed the interim title a couple weeks later, entrusted by the organization to lead the way. He didn’t need to interview again — Wallin was their guy.
Former Mariners general manager Daniel Briere, now special assistant to the general manager of the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers, initially heard from Wallin that he wanted to coach. Briere said Wallin was a player that a coaching staff knew they could trust, and if there was a message sent by the coaching staff they knew he’d relay it.
“It was clear that we saw a fit for him in coaching,” Briere said. “He’s someone who takes on more than the expectations, so when he told us that he was interested in getting in on coaching and retiring from playing, he became a top candidate that year.”
Briere initially anticipated Wallin would be an assistant for a few years, but when Guite left, Briere took a chance on Wallin.
“He’s done things better than I could’ve imagined,” Briere said. “I’ve been really, really impressed.”
In a league where the only constant is roster turnover, Wallin has a surprisingly familiar group in year No. 1 at the helm. Players Conner Bleackley, Nate Kallen, and Nick Master, all experienced Wallin as a teammate, assistant coach, and head coach. Francois Brassard played with Wallin here, too. The team’s lone assistant coach, Johnny McInnis, played with Wallin on the 2018-19 team. Kallen described Walin as a player’s coach.
“He’s the most fresh-out-of-playing coach that I’ve had in my life, and I like it,” Kallen said. “He’s a very approachable coach, not some 60-year-old guy who never smiles.”
Another reason Wallin thrives in Maine is predicated on personal connections. His parents retired to Kennebunk nearly a decade ago, and Wallin even requested a trade from his old team to the Mariners when they came back to Portland. Staying in Portland means his wife, Erin, could keep her job. They’re still close to family and live in the same apartment.
“I couldn’t have drawn up a better scenario for my transition from player to coach,” Wallin said.
Wallin said his coaching style stems from the ones he played for in the past but with his own twist — namely, his trademark passion.
That mentality showed itself during the Mariners opening weekend, Kallen said. Sloppy play resulted in one of Wallin’s first chances to rally his team in the heat of battle.
“He definitely picked up his tone, and we needed it,” Kallen said. “He was letting us know that we weren’t doing a great job, and we stepped up and got big wins.
Wallin’s coaching philosophy mirrors the timely trend of employee — or in this case, player — empowerment in the workplace. Culture is a circle, not a pyramid, an idea Wallin recently read in a book and embraced for the team’s locker room and the coaching staff’s “very open-door policy.”
“I don’t want to be at the top of the pyramid,” Wallin said. “I want to be part of the circle.”
And that circle is right here in Portland. Are there NHL coaching dreams? Of course.
“I want to help the Mariners win, first, though,” Wallin said. “I’m pretty good at keeping my feet where they are.”
Correction: A previous version of this article misidentified the ECHL by its former name, the East Coast Hockey League.
Greg Levinsky is a Portland native and follower of local sports. He is an alumnus of Deering High School and Boston University whose work has appeared in The Boston Globe, Detroit Free Press, and several Maine newspapers. He can be reached at [email protected].