The impact a single sports team can have on a young person's life can be enormous.
I'll admit, when I was growing up, hockey wasn't a huge cup of tea for me. I grew up in an era where my family had basic cable, and Michael Jordan was on TV almost every Sunday. Yes I'm a Celtics fan, but I do miss that old NBA on NBC theme.
Of course, I did enjoy the Red Sox and Patriots, but neither were nationally relevant in the early 1990's. My first true Patriots diehard moment came at the end of Drew Bledsoe's rookie season when he and Michael Timpson teamed up to knock the Miami Dolphins out of the playoffs. Some businessman named Robert Kraft bought the team shortly after, and well, you know the rest.
It was a little college hockey team from a small Maine town that got me interested in sticks and pucks. It was hearing the great Dale Duff call University of Maine hockey games on WLBZ-TV that ignited by interest in the game.
Finally, toward the end of that regular season, my first hockey exposure to Alfond Arena happened.
I was not even 8 years old, but I was amazed at the combination of speed, skill and creativity that team had. It helped to have arguably the best 1-2 goaltender punch college hockey has ever seen in Garth Snow and Mike Dunham. I can't remember the final score that night, but I believe Maine played Boston College.
Soon after, I began following the Bruins. I was quite unhappy when coach Shawn Walsh was suspended just a few years after that magical 42-1-2 run. What Maine kid didn't want one of those original Anaheim Mighty Ducks jerseys with Paul Kariya's name on the back of it? Growing up in a hoops crazy household, I started to prefer the "Mighty Ducks" trilogy over "Hoosiers."
Thanks to that team, I not only became interested in hockey but sports journalism. Some kids grew up going on vacations, but I grew up going to the Bangor Auditorium when my father was still covering basketball games, and to Alfond Arena. Even though I had a pretty good high school track career, winning a couple team championships, becoming captain and even earning All-Conference as a senior, it was clear once high school was over I was trading in my spikes for a notebook and pen.
That's exactly what happened. Less than 3 months after my last state championship meet - I remember it was pouring buckets, back when the Maine Principals' Association didn't postpone track meets when it rained - I was given the keys to the track and cross country beats at the BDN.
And I have the 42-1-2 Maine hockey team to thank for that.
Throughout high school and college, my passion for the program really reached a peak, back when bus trips to NCAA Tournament sites were common. My freshman year of college, I learned one of my track buddies was heading on a fan bus to Albany with his family, and I just had to go. I was warned about the length of the trip, but I shook it off. That same buddy and I had road-tripped to Manhattan the previous October to visit friends. Oddly, my future mother in law was on that same bus.
If that first game at the Alfond was unforgettable, this road to the NCAA Tournament was quite fun. Maine rallied from a third-period deficit to beat Harvard in the first game, thanks to a goalie change, and took down Wisconsin in overtime the next night. We got back to campus at 5:00 in the morning, but I didn't care. I was on quite a high.
Thankfully, it was spring break and I didn't have to get up to go to class!
There have been many highs and lows, but thanks to one of the greatest college sports teams in history, I developed a passion for this great game. And became interested in writing about sports for a living.
Thank you, Shawn Walsh and company.