Players remember legendary Maine coach Walsh on 10th anniversary of death

Posted Sept. 23, 2011, at 5:05 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 24, 2011, at 12:21 a.m.
University of Maine hockey coach Shawn Walsh directs team members during a practice in October of 2000. Walsh, who coached Maine to two national championships, died 10 years ago Saturday after a 15-month battle with kidney cancer.
BDN File Photo
University of Maine hockey coach Shawn Walsh directs team members during a practice in October of 2000. Walsh, who coached Maine to two national championships, died 10 years ago Saturday after a 15-month battle with kidney cancer.
Maine hockey head coach Shawn Walsh directs his team during a game against Boston College in March of 2000. Walsh, who coached Maine to two national championships, died 10 years ago Saturday after a 15-month battle with kidney cancer
AP File Photo
Maine hockey head coach Shawn Walsh directs his team during a game against Boston College in March of 2000. Walsh, who coached Maine to two national championships, died 10 years ago Saturday after a 15-month battle with kidney cancer

It was April 6, 2000, and the site was the Providence Civic Center.

The defending national champion University of Maine’s men’s hockey team was storming the University of North Dakota net trying to claw away at a 2-0 deficit in an NCAA semifinal.

Maine was without leading scorer Cory Larose, who had to miss the game due to a mandatory one-game suspension for a five-minute butt-ending major penalty in the previous game, a 5-2 win over Michigan in the quarterfinals.

Five-foot-7 Karl Goehring was simply immense between the pipes for the Fighting Sioux and his defense laid out to block shots.

As the final minutes wound down, everyone was waiting for Maine coach Shawn Walsh to pull his goalie in favor of the extra attacker.

It didn’t occur until there was under a minute left.

North Dakota held on to win 2-0.

Walsh was asked after the game why he didn’t pull his goalie earlier since he was facing a two-goal deficit. That’s what the vast majority of coaches would have done.

Walsh calmly replied that since his team was generating so many chances 5-on-5, he thought putting another skater on the ice in place of the goalie might clutter up the ice and cause confusion.

Whether or not you agreed with him, it was obvious Walsh had put a lot of thought into his decision and he wasn’t afraid to take criticism for it. He felt his decision gave his team the best chance to win.

“I completely agreed with him,” said former Maine defenseman Peter Metcalf, who was on that team. “I’d rather have a 4-on-3 than a 5-on-3. The more players you have on the ice, the more they can get in the way.”

That innovative way of thinking was just one of the trademarks of Walsh, who died 10 years ago Saturday after a 15-month battle with kidney cancer.

When Walsh took over from Jack Semler before the 1984-85 season, Maine had gone 27-65 in the previous three seasons. Walsh took his lumps in his first two seasons as he began rebuilding the program with players like Jack Capuano, David Capuano, Mike Golden, Mike McHugh and Eric Weinrich.

The next 15 years produced two national championships, seven Frozen-Four appearances, 11 NCAA berths and a prominent spot among the nation’s elite which gave the state and the school some valuable national exposure.

There were some problems, such as the NCAA sanctions against Walsh for NCAA violations that resulted in a one-year suspension for him. Several wins were forfeited.

But his legacy as one of the nation’s best coaches remained intact. He posted a record of 399-215-44 and won the Spencer Penrose Award as the nation’s best coach in 1995.

He was charismatic, fiery, self-confident, fearless and he never left any stone unturned.

Jack Capuano is now the head coach of the NHL’s New York Islanders and said Walsh had a major influence on his career.

“What I took from Shawn was his passion, work ethic and honesty,” said Capuano. “He tried to make us better every day whether it was a better person or a better player. He cared about his players. And he was a relentless recruiter.”

Metcalf called Walsh a “second father figure.

“He did a lot for my career. He taught us to put the team first. That’s why I had a hard time adjusting from college to pro hockey (where the player has to put himself first to move up the ladder),” said Metcalf. “And his ability to change his philosophy during a game was phenomenal. We once had three different forechecks for three different lines. I’ve never heard of that.”

Metcalf also pointed out the brilliant move Walsh made in the 1992-93 NCAA title game when he put Garth Snow in goal to replace Mike Dunham after the second period against Lake Superior State. Maine trailed 4-2 and Snow’s superior ability to handle the puck negated the Lakers’ dump-and-chase forecheck ideology and Maine rallied for a 5-4 win.

“How many coaches would have pulled one of the best goalies in the country?” posed Mertcalf.

Grant Standbrook was Walsh’s right-hand man and his recruiting coordinator for 14 years including the national championship years.

He played a major role in the program’s success and Standbrook said, “the thing I loved about him is he sought input from everybody on a daily basis. We would have coaches meetings that would last two hours and we’d get in each other’s faces. We’d be screaming at each other. But, at the end of it, we’d say ‘what a great meeting that was’ and we’d go on the ice and execute what we’d talked about.”

Metcalf added, “He was always open to suggestions.”

Standbrook said Walsh’s “organizational ability, his consistency, his dependability and his ability to delegate (authority)” were second to none.

Metcalf said Walsh was demanding and had his detractors.

“He wasn’t a prince all the time. Not everybody liked him but everybody respected him. He ticked a lot of people off but he did what had to be done to win,” said Metcalf, who also noted that Walsh had a compassionate side.

“Sometimes after a tough loss, he would make light of the situation and tell us it wasn’t the end of the world. He said it wasn’t like having cancer or losing your mother. He made you see the positive in things and he taught you not to take everything for granted, that you had to work for everything. The lessons he taught us mean a lot to me.”

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