April 2, 2006
NCAA Frozen Four
Postcard: Black Bear Season

By Jess Myers

Maine's Frozen Four Appearances
2004 (Boston): Lost in championship
2002 (St. Paul): Lost in championship
2000 (Providence): Lost in semifinals
1999 (Anaheim): Won championship
1995 (Providence): Lost in championship
1993 (Milwaukee): Won championship
1991 (St. Paul): Lost in semifinals
1989 (St. Paul): Lost in semifinals
1988 (Lake Placid): Lost in semifinals
More Coverage
2006 NCAA Tournament

By the time I get to Milwaukee, the Black Bears will already be there, waiting for me. The 2006 tourney will be my 15th sojourn to a Frozen Four, and it seems no matter where I’ve gone, from Anaheim in the west to Providence in the east, the Black Bears are there.

I’ve never seen the bright lights of Orono. Save for two nights in a camper near the beach in Ogunquit (and the obligatory stop at L.L. Bean) when I was in high school, I can’t even claim to have seen the state. Yet, most of the times I've headed to the NCAA tourney, I’ve been made to feel like a Black Bears groupie. Of the 14 previous Frozens I’ve attended, eight of them have involved that team that wears the sharp mix of navy blue and power blue. The 2006 gathering will make it nine.

It started on a late March afternoon in 1989 when, as a college sophomore, I made my way to the St. Paul Civic Center from a downtown parking ramp, eager to see my first Frozen Four game. Walking across Rice Park, a block from the rink, I heard drums coming my way, and paused to watch a noisy makeshift parade (led by the Maine band) filled with dozens of fans headed undaunted into an arena they knew would be 85 percent Minnesotans. The tallest of the fans held a hand-painted sign that read, “BEARS EAT GOPHERS!”

In 1993, I had a front-row seat in Milwaukee for Jim Montgomery’s natural hat trick in the third period, lifting the Bears from a two-goal deficit to their first NCAA title. But what sticks with me most from that weekend is two little boys seated behind me, who would squeal “Gretzky!” every time a talented Maine freshman named Paul Kariya would touch the puck.

I’ve been there for bitter defeats (the 1995 loss to BU in the title game) and improbable victories (Marcus Gustafsson scoring in OT to derail Jason Krog’s UNH juggernaut and win the title in 1999). I was a first-hand witness to two crushing NCAA title game losses, in 2002 (after the still-disputed overtime penalty on Michael Schutte) and in 2004 (falling 1-0 after a Maine goal was disallowed in the first period).

It seems ironic now that on that surreal post-9/11 day in late September 2001, when I got the call telling me that Shawn Walsh had died, I was waiting for a plane in the Milwaukee airport, just a few miles from the site of the coach’s greatest glory.

On Wednesday, I’m heading back there, to see the Black Bears again. For a change, there will be nobody named “Walsh” or “Kariya” on the visitors’ bench, but once again a small army of Maine fans will march undaunted into a rink sure to be dominated by fans of the de facto home team. In addition to wondering what will happen on the Bradley Center ice next Thursday night, I’m heading to the rink intrigued by one question:

Do Bears eat Badgers?