“The price was right,” Dumont quipped, a reference to the convenience, then and now, that admission to all Bowdoin sporting events is free. “It was always pretty special to be able to drive 20 minutes and see such a high quality of hockey. And to be honest, nothing against the University of Maine, but it didn’t really come alive until Shawn (Walsh) arrived in the mid-‘80s. At the time, Bowdoin hockey among college programs was the best around for sure.”

At first glance, the idea of Bowdoin hosting the NCAA Division III Frozen Four at Lewiston’s venerable Androscoggin Bank Colisee makes it sound as if somebody at the sanctioning body forget to consult Google Maps.

Quite the contrary. Other than being a concession to the fact that the 3,677-seat arena is the perfect-sized venue for the event, the site assignment is a sign that the committee did its homework.

It doesn’t take much digging for an outsider to discover two things: That there has been a steady hockey pipeline connecting Lewiston and Bowdoin since the mid-1970s, and that Bowdoin hockey is an organization steeped in tradition of a national scope.

Twice, Bowdoin has enjoyed the distinction (extremely rare for a sub-Division I program) of having a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, presented each year to the outstanding player in college hockey.

Bill Provencher was in the running for the inaugural Baker that went to U.S. Olympic Team hero Neal Broten in 1981, while Jean Roy was one of nine runners-up to Tom Kurvers in 1984.

“It doesn’t just happen by accident that you get your name on that ballot,” said Dumont, Bowdoin’s Lewiston-born assistant coach, now in his second tenure in that position at the school.

Both Roy and Provencher are from Lewiston. Roy, Provencher and another Lewiston product, 1990s Bowdoin standout Paul Croteau, all were multi-time All-Americans.

How big a deal is Bowdoin hockey? The nation’s Division III player of the year award is named after Sid Watson, who coached the Polar Bears from 1959 to 1983.

Terry Meagher succeeded Watson and has been there ever since, putting the Bowdoin coaching office in the same conversation as Fenway Park’s left field in the Williams-to-Yastrzemski-to-Rice transition.

“I fell into a pretty good situation,” Meagher said. “I get that question all the time. They were big shoes to fill, but the other side is that the program had tremendous support from the college and the community, not only from hockey people.”

Golden era

Bowdoin hockey was born in 1919, but the heyday of its Twin Cities connection was 1977 to 1984.

Lewiston High School products Provencher and Dave Boucher anchored the team in the late ‘70s. Boucher, later the coach at Edward Little, Brunswick and Leavitt, was a prolific forward.

Provencher was a four-year rock between the pipes in a day when goalie equipment was less conducive to eye-bulging statistics. He still holds the school’s all-time record save percentage of .900 to go along 1,755 stops, a goals-against average of 325, 35 wins and more than 3,600 minutes played.

“I don’t know of anyone in the East who was as good as Billy,” Watson told the Lewiston Daily Sun in 1981, as part of a story announcing Provencher’s professional tryout. “I feel he has a good shot to show what he can do to the Flyers organization.”

Indeed, Provencher did get his cup of coffee with Philadelphia in the form of a brief stint with its then-top minor league club, the Maine Mariners. Provencher played for five other pro teams.

And the pinnacle at Bowdoin was when he was one of only three players from a New England school in the running for the first-ever Hobey Baker.

“It didn’t mean as much then as it did a couple years later, when the award became more established,” Provencher said in 1993 upon his induction to the Auburn-Lewiston Sports Hall of Fame.

Enter Roy, whose productivity as a defenseman remains unmatched to this day at Bowdoin, three decades after he departed with his degree.

Roy was Watson’s best bequest to Meagher when he handed over the keys to the empire.

“He still is arguably the best defenseman ever to wear the black and white jersey,” Meagher said. “Who knows where he would be in today’s game? Just his skill set. He had a huge shot. Very strong physically in the upper body. But mostly his compete level. All the great ones have that.”

There were only two divisions at the time, and Bowdoin was in D-II. That didn’t stop Roy from earning either Baker consideration or an invitation to try out for the 1984 Olympic Team.

The first Bowdoin player to win three All-America distinctions, Roy was named New England’s outstanding defenseman from all divisions of college hockey his senior season.

To this day, he is the Polar Bears’ 10th all-time leading scorer and stands No. 1 at Bowdoin in career assists (95), single-season assists (35) and most career goals (38) and points (133) by a defenseman. Roy later played hockey in Europe and was named one of Maine’s top 50 athletes of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated.

Changing times

Fans and media didn’t have to imagine how the local greats would fare against larger competition. Provencher’s Bowdoin College Athletic Hall of Honor biography — he and Roy both are members — recalls a game against Boston College in which he made 46 saves.

“Back in the ’70s and ’80s, Bowdoin played eight or nine Division I teams every year,” Dumont said. “They would play Maine, Merrimack, UNH. It was a really good schedule.”

Maine’s ascent under Walsh and the overall growth of the sport changed both Bowdoin’s schedule and status as the Reagan years merged into the Clinton decade, but it didn’t stop the consistent flow of Lewiston athletes to the nearby NESCAC school.

Brian Clifford and Paul Croteau both starred for the Polar Bears in the early 1990s. Croteau emerged as a two-time All-American at the blue line and still ranks second to Roy among Bowdoin defensemen with 104 points.

“As great as Jean was, and with all the accolades, if somebody asked me to choose between him and Paul Croteau, it would be a tough one for me,” Meagher said. “They were both outstanding.”

Since 1993-94, when the academic-minded NESCAC first permitted its teams to compete in national tournaments, Bowdoin has reached the NCAA Division III quarterfinals five times.

The Polar Bears were one step from that round and two wins away from earning a spot in their own Frozen Four this season. Bowdoin gave up a 3-1 lead and lost 4-3 to Oswego State, which later punched a ticket to Lewiston.

“Ever since this was announced, people kept asking me if we were going to play in it,” Meagher said. “We gave Oswego a great game and they made it, so obviously we gave it our best shot. Either way, it’s great for our program, great for the school and great for hockey in the state.”

National attention

Both that state and the state of the game itself have changed dramatically in recent years. With that, the number of players skating down Route 196 has diminished.

St. Dom’s product Brooks Boucher (2001-05) was the last local player to see a significant four-year career at Bowdoin. Dumont, who moved away at 14 and attended Mount St. Charles in Rhode Island, is the current link. He rejoined the program in 2011.

“We’ve had our share of Maine players. I believe it’s a hockey state, always have. I know that will upset the basketball and football people. But from the success of the University of Maine program to the great high school programs, I think it’s a wonderful hockey state,” Meagher said. “For some guys today who aspire to the next level, it’s hard to stay and develop that high level of play. A lot of them are looking to the junior and boarding programs. But that doesn’t diminish the quality of the sport around here.”

Hockey has gone from being a niche sport to one played nationwide, year-round. Bowdoin’s 2013-14 roster had players from Cocoa Beach, Fla., and suburban Atlanta and Los Angeles. Three-year-old Watson Arena is a priceless recruiting tool.

With the exception of SUNY Geneseo’s Connor Anthoine, most of the players who will compete Friday and Saturday are “from away,” as well.

Bowdoin’s coaches still expect local fans to be lured, and enthralled, by the level of competition.

“I was (at the Colisee) for a national midget tournament in 1987 that was very, very special,” said Dumont, an Oswego State alumnus. “There were quite a few future NHLers that came though. And of course the Lewiston Maineaics winning the President’s Cup in 2007 was a special time as well. I would put this right up there.”

“They’re all very strong teams and traditionally strong programs. I don’t know if I would say people will be surprised by it, but I think people are going to enjoy the talent level they see,” Meagher said. “Some of the programs, particularly Oswego, will have a great fan base. But I think most of the people in the building will be there because they love the game and enjoy watching it played at a high level.”

The way they always have, when Bowdoin is somehow involved.


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