The Univeristy of Maine hockey team experienced its crowning achievement in the city hosting this year’s Frozen Four.
ORONO – Like just about everyone else in Maine, they were glued to their television sets.
“I remember being at home with my family watching the game,” said Greg Moore, a nine-year old at the time. “It was pretty nerve-wracking.”
It was April of 1993 and the University of Maine was playing its first National Championship game at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
As Moore watched history unfold at his home in Lisbon, Derek Damon was doing the same as a 12-year old in Bangor.
“I remember watching it with my parents in our living room, just lying on the floor watching the game,” he said. “I remember what an exciting game it was. Maine started out on fire and Lake State came back. Maine switched goalies and went to Garth Snow because he played the puck better, and they started the comeback.”
Maine’s thrilling come-from-behind victory not only helped solidify Maine’s place on the college hockey map but steered players like Moore and Damon in the direction of Orono.
Now those Black Bears are headed for the Bradley Center with the chance to come full circle.
“It was exciting,” said Moore, the Black Bears captain.
“I was a little too young to understand the full scheme of what was going on. Ever since that year, I’ve been a huge fan of the program and the players that have gone through it. That was kind of the jump start for me, knowing what the place is all about.”
It was where Hank Aaron last swung for the fences and where Laverne and Shirley made their dreams come true. Milwaukee was also where Maine’s hockey team found its own happy days.
With a 42-1-2 record, the Black Bears of the 1992-93 season was one of the most potent ever. The star-studded roster featured future NHLers like Mike Dunham, Paul Kariya, Peter Ferraro, Chris Ferraro, Jim Montgomery and Garth Snow.
“It was arguably the most talented team in college hockey history,” said Grant Standbrook, Maine’s longtime assistant coach. “We went into the National Tournament with a 40 percent power play. So it was awesome.”
With only one loss entering the Frozen Four, the Black Bears had talent, confidence and high hopes.
“I think our feeling was that we were the favorite,” said Kent Salfi, who has played in Europe the last 13 years and lives in Hampden during the offseason. “If we played the hockey we were capable of playing, we would win. That was our thinking, but it’s easier said than done. We felt we were the best team. It was a question of whether we could bring it or not.”
Being the best team in a single-elimination tournament didn’t guarantee anything, and that proved true in the semifinal game as Maine fell behind 2-0 to Michigan.
“They scored on their first two shots,” said Standbrook. “Garth and I always had a saying “Your shutout is three goals.’ You don’t worry about one they score in the first minute or one in the course of the game. I said You’re fine. You’re still working on your shutout.’ The guys came over to him to pat him on the back and he said Get out of here, go score some goals.”
Down 3-2 entering the third period, Montgomery set up Cal Ingraham for the tying goal with 4:03 left. It was just the second time all year that Maine had trailed entering the third.
Lee Saunders, a late replacement on defense, scored the winner 1:36 into overtime.
Knowing Dunham had battled dehydration and was an “in-the-net” goalie, Standbrook suggested starting Snow against the Lakers.
“The night before, I went into Shawn’s hotel room,” said Standbrook. “I said Shawn, this is for all the marbles. We’ve got to play …’ He said, I don’t want to hear it.’ I was like Okay, At least I made my point.'”
Maine roared out to a 2-0 lead in the first period. Goals by Patrice Tardif and Chris Ferraro staked the Black Bears to the early lead.
“We were up 2-0,” said Standbrook. “I phoned down to Dick Young on the bench. I said Dick, change goaltenders.’ He said Change goaltenders? We’re up 2-0. You tell him.'”
Lake Superior got a late goal in the first to stay close.
“We were up 2-0 in the first 10 minutes and it could have been five,” said Salfi. “We were all over them.”
The second period was a different story.
A strong forecheck hemmed in Maine, and the Lakers turned a 2-1 deficit into a 4-2 lead with three goals.
“We were getting pinned in our own end,” said Standbrook. “They were forechecking so well down the wall. They had guys at over 200 pounds at forward.”
It had the Black Bears frustrated and trying to regroup.
“You look back on it year’s later, it feels like we were playing poorly,” said Montgomery. “I thought we had a lot of chances that we didn’t capitalize on. They were getting every fortuitous bounce that could go their way.”
Breaking the silence
Salfi says it was the quietest he’d seen the locker room in four years. Being down for the second game in a row had the Black Bears stunned.
“Shawn didn’t say anything,” said Salfi. “The locker room was really quiet after two periods. Then Jimmy said Boy’s were going to come back and win this.’ And that was it. You could see in the guy’s eyes that they believed him.”
Montgomery, the captain and Hobey Baker finalist, says he just had a great deal of confidence in his team and knew how resilient it could be. There was no panic. The battle-tested Black Bears knew what had to be done.
“I remember turning to Paul,” said Montgomery, sitting between Kariya and Cal, his linemates. “I said If we’re going to win this game, it’s up to us to turn it around because, we’ve been the ones that have scored all year.'”
Calling for Snow
Montgomery says that tactical moves by Walsh and his coaching staff were some of the best he’d seen at Maine. Walsh didn’t want his team backing down. Despite the deficit, he wanted a continued attack. To help in that strategy, Snow got the call.
“I didn’t dare look at Red (Gendron) and I didn’t dare look at Dick because I knew I’d have broken out laughing,” said Standbrook. “Shawn says We’re going with Snowy.’ I still didn’t look up.”
Snow’s aggressiveness around the net and his ability to move the puck up ice quickly, helped limit the forecheck and fueled Maine’s “wave after wave” attack. When Wisconsin fans joined the Black Bear following, Lake Superior was being overwhelmed in more ways than one.
“They couldn’t handle it,” said Montgomery. “They were on their heels.”
Montgomery scored a hat trick, converting three Kariya passes to produce three goals in 5:37.
It ended seven year’s of tournament frustration for Maine and put the hockey program on the fast track to elite status.
“We felt it was justification,” said Salfi. “We felt we were a heck of a hockey team. We felt we had underachieved and not gotten the just rewards. It was a great time for everybody. It was just really satisfying.”
The team quickly realized what it had accomplished when greeted by the Maine following after the game.
“The pep band was playing the Maine Stein song,” said Montgomery. “There had to be like 5,000 people in a room that couldn’t possibly hold that many. It was just awesome.”
They were welcomed back to Maine by fans waving along the turnpike and a frenzied campus in Orono.
“You could really realize how much it meant to the state of Maine,” said Montgomery. “It gave Maine an identity of being able to compete on par with every other state. There’s an air of confidence that people can cling to.”
For Maine hockey, it reached a plateau that has been maintained since.
“It was a program that was up and coming, but now it went to a whole new level,” said Montgomery, now an assistant at Notre Dame. It’s still is a premier hockey program.”
Maine has reached the Frozen Four five times since and are aiming for a sixth try at the National Championship since 1993. Montgomery will be there Thursday and knows he’ll be reliving memories while the current crop of Black Bears strive to make their own.
“Obviously, there’s memories (in Milwaukee) and there’s memories wherever you go, but 13 years later, it’s a different team, a different coach and different everything,” said Damon. “We’ve just got to go out there and try to write our own history.”