ORONO, Maine — The 1998-99 University of Maine hockey team finished second in Hockey East and lost to Boston College in the league tournament semifinals.
But the Black Bears, despite playing with two fewer scholarships as a result of sanctions stemming from NCAA violations, went on to win the school’s second NCAA championship by beating Boston College 2-1 in overtime and New Hampshire 3-2 in overtime in Anaheim.
Members of that team and their families had a reunion on Cape Cod over the weekend and then several former players came to Orono for the biennial alumni get-together that included a hockey game on Sunday and a golf tournament on Monday at the Penobscot Valley Country Club.
“It was awesome. It was as if we had just played the [national championship] game last week,” said Dan Kerluke, now an assistant coach at his alma mater.
“It was great. It was like we just saw them last week,” said Marcus Gustafsson, who lives in Atlanta. “People have grown up and they have families now but they’re the same guys, the same great guys.”
They dined several times together on Cape Cod, including once at former Bear Jason Vitorino’s father’s restaurant; they had a lobster bake; went on a cruise; spent time on the beach; played in a golf tournament and went to a barbecue at Brendan Walsh’s in-laws’ house.
The players were asked to recall their memories that year and Gustafsson recorded it and said former assistant Grant Standbrook stole the show by telling stories about recruiting and coaching each of them.
“It was about an hour and five minutes long,” said Gustafsson.
“That’s the biggest thing I’ll remember,” said Anders Lundback, who returned with his twin brother, Magnus, from Lulea, Sweden, where they are corrections officers and marathon cross-country skiers.
“It was just like yesterday,” said Ben Guite, who just signed a one-year, two-way contract to play for the Nashville Predators next season. He will earn $550,000 if he plays for Nashville and $105,000 if he plays in the American Hockey League.
Guite spent the last three seasons with the Colorado Avalanche where he had 19 goals and 26 assists in 169 games. He had five goals and seven assists in 50 games after missing nearly two months with broken ribs and torn cartilage in his rib cage.
“It’ll be the same role I had with the Avs: kill penalties, be an energy guy, a reliable defensive player who can take faceoffs and all that stuff,” said Guite.
“There were some other similar offers but this was the best opportunity, personally,” said the 31-year-old Guite. “They pushed pretty hard. They showed a lot of interest. They had only nine forwards signed at the time. We’ve got good goaltending and very strong young defensemen in Shea Weber and Ryan Suter.”
Meanwhile, Kent Salfi, who played on the 1992-93 NCAA title team, has signed to play his 17th season in Europe and 14th in Austria. He will play for Innsbruck.
He said playing in Europe provides a good living with an average salary of $100,000 with a house, a vehicle and health insurance also provided. He said former Bears Jeff Tory, Brad Purdie, Matthias Trattnig, Mike Morrison and Matt Yeats played in their league last season.
Derek Damon and his former Maine teammate, Josh Soares, will be on the same German team. Prestin Ryan will play for another German team.
Michel Leveille said he will play for the Charlotte Checkers in the ECHL this season — he had 37 points in 40 games for them this past season — and probably play in Europe in 2010-11.
Niko Dimitrakos will play in Russia and Frank Doyle, who married Maine native Lindsey Haskell a week ago in Somesville, is still undecided after playing in Europe this past season.