Maine, North Dakota hockey programs are similar

Posted Oct. 19, 2010, at 4:42 p.m.
Last modified Oct. 19, 2010, at 6:26 p.m.

On Oct. 13, 2000, the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux were in Orono for a two-game set against the University of Maine.

With Black Bear coach Shawn Walsh away in California getting treatment for kidney cancer, which would claim his life less than a year later, UND coach Dean Blais had the names on the backs of his team's jerseys replaced by the name "Walsh" to show his and his team's support for the Maine coach.

It was a classy gesture that will never be forgotten by the Black Bear faithful.

So it was only appropriate that the Fighting Sioux would be on hand at the Alfond Arena four years later under first-year coach Dave Hakstol when Walsh's shamrock was retired and hoisted to the rafters where it sits today.

The two programs resume their rivalry this weekend when North Dakota comes to Orono for a Friday-Saturday night series.

It will be their first meeting since Maine swept the Sioux 6-2 and 3-1 in Grand Forks on Oct. 20-21, 2006. Those wins enabled Maine to overcome a late-season collapse and make the NCAA Tournament and they went on to reach the Frozen Four.

It was the last time Maine participated in the NCAA Tournament.

The programs have a lot in common.

Both have been able to overcome geographic disadvantages to build nationally prominent programs.

They are both in remote locations.

Both have benefited from wealthy donors.

The late Harold Alfond and his family not only made Alfond Arena a reality in 1976, they have continued to donate to the program, including a $3.5 million gift announced last week to renovate the arena.

The late Ralph Engelstad provided the Fighting Sioux with a magnificent, state-of-the-art $110 million arena in his name that opened in 2001.

Both teams are the flagship programs for their respective universities and have rabid followings. The Fighting Sioux have won seven national championships and Maine has won two.

Current UND volunteer goalie coach Karl Goehring ruined Maine's bid to win back-to-back NCAA titles in 2000 when he made 30 saves in his first game back after missing three weeks with a concussion as UND beat Maine 2-0 in the Frozen Four in Providence, R.I.

Western Canadian players have played instrumental roles in each program's success.

Walsh took the Black Bear program from the outhouse to the penthouse thanks to players from western Canada, most notably the Kariya brothers (Paul, Steve, Marty) from North Vancouver, British Columbia.

The former Maine coach liked the fact the British Columbia Junior Hockey League encouraged players to attend U.S. colleges, and he noted that no matter where they chose to go to school, there would be a plane flight involved, which helped his cause.

North Dakota has been very well-served by players from Alberta and Manitoba. There are currently 11 players from those two provinces on its roster.

North Dakota was one of the programs Walsh emulated.

Big, rangy defensemen and a blend of small, dynamic forwards and hard-nosed grinders was the recipe for success, not to mention top-notch goaltending.

The parade of Fighting Sioux puck-stoppers was led by Ed Belfour while Maine had Garth Snow and Mike Dunham.

Both programs have been ravaged by early pro signings, particularly the Fighting Sioux.

The Sioux are currently ranked second in the country thanks to having 16 NHL draft choices, including nine chosen in the top four rounds. Maine has five NHL selections, three in the top four rounds.

Both head coaches, Hakstol and Maine's Tim Whitehead, were assistants at the respective schools.

It should be an interesting weekend.

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