The University of Maine men’s hockey team poses with the 1999 NCAA National Championship trophy after defeating University of New Hampshire 3-2 in overtime in the national champion game in Anaheim, California. University of Maine Athletics

Unlike the 1992-93 national championship team that went 42-1-2, the 1998-99 University of Maine men’s hockey team wasn’t seen as the top team in the country.

In fact, they were in a battle, along with the University of New Hampshire and Boston College, for the Hockey East title.

Those two rivals played a big factor as the Black Bears captured their second NCAA championship in 1999 with a record of 31-6-4.

Saturday at noon, WPXT-CW (Ch. 12 on Spectrum, Ch. 51 on Dish and DirectTV) and the Maine Black Bears Facebook page will be re-airing the 1999 national championship game between the Black Bears and archrival New Hampshire, which Maine won 3-2 in overtime in Anaheim, California.

Maine was banned from the NCAA tournament in 1996 and 1997 due to being on NCAA probation resulting a crackdown on hockey teams that used ineligible players.

In 1998, the Black Bears went 14-14-4, but managed to make it all the way to the Hockey East final, in which they fell to Boston College.

“The season before was really weird. There was not a lot of hope going into the next season,” said Dan Kerluke, a sophomore forward on the 1999 team. “We knew we were going to be strong, but how good we were going to be in the (98-99) season, I don’t think any of us knew. (Maine had) another good recruiting class coming in and we had some leaders that were going to be important to our success.”

The team expected to reach Southern California prior to start of the season.

“It’s something we didn’t talk about a lot, but I know coming (into the season), we did an exercise about where we wanted to be,” said Alfie Michaud, who was a junior and the team’s No. 1 goalie. “It was very vivid, there was a line drawn and Anaheim was written there. We knew that was our final destination. We couldn’t get there without all the work throughout the year. That was the ultimate end goal.”

Michaud said when head coach Shawn Walsh recruited him, the expectation was to get to the Frozen Four at least twice.

FINDING THEIR GROOVE

A teary-eyed Alfie Michaud is congratulated by a fan after the University of Maine defeated New Hampshire to win the NCAA men’s hockey championship in Anaheim, California, on April 3, 1999. Herb Swanson/Staff Photographer

The Black Bears entered the 1998 Christmas break with an 11-1-3 record, and started the second half of the season with five games in nine days against some perennial powers. That stretch set the tone for the rest of the season.

Michaud had a stellar year, posting a 28-6-3 record with a 2.32 goals-against-average and .910 save percentage. He knew he had to be on his game since his two backups, sophomore Mike Morrison and freshman Matthew Yeats, were equally talented. All three would to on to play in the NHL.

“My two goalie teammates were both drafted goalies,” said Michaud, who is now an assistant coach for the Black Bears. “If I wasn’t going to be on the top my game, Shawn Walsh had no problem putting me on the bench. I think that’s the testament to our team and the depth we had back then.”

To start the crucial stretch, Maine flew out to Colorado for a game against the University of Denver (a 3-0 win) on New Year’s Day, and a game against Colorado College (3-3 tie) on Jan. 3. The Black Bears then flew to Boston for a single game against Boston University (4-3 win) on Jan. 5, followed by a two-game set with Boston College on Jan. 8 (2-1 win) and Jan. 9 (7-4 loss).

They finished the daunting stretch 3-1-1 despite being shorthanded. Two freshman standouts, forward Barrett Heisten and Doug Janik, were absent because they were representing Team USA at the 1999 International Ice Hockey Federation’s Under-20 World Junior Championship.

“If I remember right, all four of those teams were top 10 in the country at the time,” said Ben Guite, a junior forward on the team and the Black Bears’ current associate head coach. “Here we are, we go 3-1-1 against top 10 teams without two of our better players. That really gave us a lot of confidence. The season prior we weren’t so successful and that really cemented the fact we could be a contender.”

Team photo of the 1998-99 University of Maine men’s hockey team. University of Maine Athletics

Following the loss to the Eagles, the Black Bears went on a tear, winning their next nine games before dropping a 4-1 decision to Boston University on Feb. 20.

The team also lost equipment manager Richard Britt, who was killed in a car accident three days after the loss.

“Everybody was close to him and everybody loved him, and just going through that as a team was tough, really tough, but it also brought us together,” Guite said. “We had his jersey on the bench and we all felt he was with us this whole time (the rest of the season).”

BLACK BEARS FALL SHORT

After wins against Merrimack and University of Massachusetts-Lowell, the Black Bears were in the driver’s seat to capture the regular season Hockey East crown entering the final weekend of the regular season. The trip to Durham, New Hampshire, didn’t go as planned, though, as the Wildcats swept the Black Bears to earn the title, outscoring Maine 10-2 in the two games.

“We had to beat New Hampshire or tie New Hampshire two games down in their building to win the regular season championship,” Kerluke said. “They beat us both times and I think they probably made us a little more mad and we wanted that revenge when we got to the biggest stage possible in college hockey .”

After a sweep of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst in the Hockey East quarterfinals at home, the Black Bears bid for the automatic berth into the NCAA tournament came to an end in the Hockey East semifinals at the FleetCenter (now known as the TD Garden) in Boston with a 3-2 loss to BC on March 19. The Eagles captured the Hockey East title the next night with a win over UNH.

Maine entered the NCAA tournament as the No. 3 seed in the East Region, which took place in Worcester, Massachusetts. The Black Bears defeated Ohio State 4-2 in the regional quarterfinals. In the regional final, they faced the second-seeded Clarkson University, which had earned a bye into the regional semifinals. Maine pounced on the rested Golden Knights in a 7-2 win.

TWO CLASSICS

New Hampshire and Boston College joined Maine as three Hockey East teams made the trip to the Arrowhead Pond (now the Honda Center) in Anaheim, home of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.

“These three New England teams going all the way across the country to play each other. From a conference perspective, that was really cool,” Kerluke said. “You always want to play different teams in some of these scenarios, but I think it’s very neat at that level of the season. It makes it a little more intense when you are playing people who you hate. You play three or four times a year, you got those rivalries, you got that player on the other team you don’t like and you got to go at it again at a much different stage.”

University of Maine forward Marcus Gustafsson carries the national championship trophy after he scored the game-winning goal in overtime of the 1999 national championship game in Anaheim, California against rival New Hampshire. Portland Press Herald file photo

First on the docket for Maine was BC in the national semifinal on Thursday, April 1. The Eagles went up 1-0 in the second period when Marty Hughes found the back of the net.

Another UMaine impact freshman, forward Niko Dimitrakos, tied the game early in the third period.

“Niko made the all-tournament team. Obviously, everybody knew how skilled he was,” Guite said. “He was probably the most skilled player I ever played with in all my years of hockey. I played 13 years of pro hockey.”

Bobby Stewart, a senior forward, played the role of hero early in overtime by beating BC goalie Scott Clemmensen and scoring a goal that sent the Black Bears to the national championship game.

“I remember kind of losing myself for a second,” Stewart said on a team Zoom call this week. “I finally did something important in that game, because I don’t think I played that great of a game.”

The New Hampshire, which beat Michigan State in the other semifinal game, featured Hobey Baker Award winner Jason Krog, who had 34 goals and 51 assists. Two of his teammates also surpassed the 60-point mark, Mike Souza (65) and Darryn Haydar (61).

The Black Bears countered with depth, skating 10 players with 20 or more points. The Wildcats, meanwhile, had six.

“When you watch that game Saturday, Haydar, Krog and Souza are just everywhere on the ice. They are a dominant line,” Guite said. “That was their line, that was their big guys. But you look on our side, it’s just wave after wave of Black Bears. That was the big thing for us, it wasn’t one player in particular, it was just well-deep and well-balanced.”

Maine was led offensively by the second of the three Kariya brothers to put on a Black Bears jersey, forward Steve Kariya, who had 27 goals and 38 assists for 65 points. Cory Larose was second on the team with 21 goals and 31 assists, followed by defenseman David Cullen, who had 11 goals and 33 assists. Kerluke tallied 23 goals and 19 assists.

The two rivals met on Saturday, April 3, for college hockey’s grand prize.

Maine jumped out to a 2-0 lead as Guite scored in the first period and Dimitrakos found the back of the net in the middle of the second. The Black Bears thought they had all but wrapped up the game shortly thereafter when Kerluke appeared to put the Black Bears up 3-0.

“I scored to make it 3-0, and they had that stupid rule back then that (negated the goal) when someone else is in the crease,” Kerluke said. “Jason Vitorino (and I) were on a 2-on-1 rush, his blade touches half-of-an-inch into the crease, it didn’t affect anything.”

The Wildcats responded shortly after with a shorthanded goal by Haydar. Souza then tied the game at 2-2 early in the third period.

University of Maine’s Marcus Gustafsson scores the winning goal against New Hampshire goalie Ty Conklin to win the NCAA Division I Hockey championship in overtime 3-2. Herb Swanson photo

The teams remained even at the end of regulation.

Marcus Gustafsson then added his name to the lore of Maine hockey history when he scored midway through the overtime period to give Maine its second NCAA championship.

Gustafsson, from Sweden, was one of six players born in Europe on the 1998-99 team. That was due in large part to Grant Standbrook, the renowned recruiter and assistant coach, who scouted across the pond after the program was put on NCAA probation, which also prompted the University of Maine suspending Walsh in December of 1995 for one year. Assistant coach Greg Cronin moved up to head coach during Walsh’s absence.

“Grant essentially (looked across the globe) to find guys that could have an impact on the team, a positive impact and be able to come in not on a full scholarship,” Guite said. “If you compare it to the NHL today, (it’s like) if you hamper the Bruins by 20 million on the salary cap limit and (say), ‘Here you go build a Stanley Cup contender.’ That’s what those (coaches) did, Shawn, Grant and guys like Greg Cronin and Gene Riley, they recruited that team on a restrictive budget.”

Michaud made 44 saves in the title game and was named to the all-tournament team along with Dimitrakos and Cullen.

“It was one of the most memorable moments of my life, to be in the net,” Michaud said. “During the game, to be honest with you, you are just in the moment playing the game. I tried to be in the moment the best you can and enjoy the situation. Coach Walsh was a stickler for detail and I don’t remember feeling nervous because of the fact we were prepared to play at Maine during that time.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.