Twenty years. In a way, it seems like just yesterday. In other ways, it seems a lot longer ago than that. Any Maine hockey fan knows that the Black Bears won their second national championship in 1999, which makes this the 20th anniversary of that great team.
The expectations were high headed into that season with the likes of Steve Kariya, David Cullen, Bobby Stewart, Jason Vitorino, and Alife Michaud on the roster. The team finished with a record of 31-6-4. The Black Bears defeated Boston College 2-1 in overtime in the national semifinals.
Maine then beat archrival New Hampshire 3-2 in Anaheim, Calif. two days later on an overtime goal by Marcus Gustafsson.
I think that everyone kind of thought that it was just the beginning for Maine hockey, but oh how times have changed. Legendary coach Shawn Walsh passed away two and a half years later. Tim Whitehead took over the reins and led Maine to the NCAA title game in his first year, falling in overtime to Minnesota in Minneapolis. Maine made NCAA Tournament each of Whitehead’s first six seasons but missed the tournament five of the next six years.
Red Gendron was named head coach following the 2012-13 season and again hopes were high, but the results have not been there. He has an overall record of 67-98-21 in five seasons.
Maine returns a wealth of talent this season. Junior Mitchell Fossier led the team in scoring a year ago with 12 goals and 22 assists for 34 points. Chase Pearson added seven goals and 20 assists for 27 points, while Eduards Tralmaks chipped in with 11 goals and 14 assists for 25 points.
Sophomore netminder Jeremy Swayman, a fourth-round draft choice of the Boston Bruins, had a nice freshman season finishing 15-12-3 with a 2.72 goals against average and a .921 save percentage.
I want to be optimistic heading into the season. A hot Maine hockey team makes the cold Maine winters bearable. Let’s hope the Black Bears are able to live up to expectations this season.