WORCESTER, Mass. — University of Maine hockey coach Tim Whitehead has compiled an impressive record in NCAA tournament play.
In his 11 seasons at Maine, Whitehead has guided the Bears to a 10-6 record and four of the losses were by one goal, including two at the home rinks of their opponent.
In the 2001-2002 season, his first season behind the bench after coach Shawn Walsh died of complications from kidney cancer, the Black Bears beat Harvard (4-3 in overtime), Boston University (4-3) and New Hampshire (7-2) before losing to Minnesota 4-3 in overtime in the national championship game in St. Paul, Minn.
Maine lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament 2-1 to Michigan at Michigan’s Yost Arena in 2002-2003’ and bested Harvard (5-4), Wisconsin (2-1 in overtime) and Boston College (2-1) in 2003-2004 before losing to Denver 1-0 in their last national championship game appearance the TD Garden in Boston.
The next season, Maine lost to Minnesota 1-0 in the first round at the Gophers’ home rink in Minneapolis.
Maine reached the Frozen Four the next two seasons: topping Harvard (6-1) and Michigan State (5-4) in 2005-2006 before losing to Wisconsin 5-2 in the semifinals in Milwaukee and then eliminating St. Cloud State (4-1) and UMass (3-1) before losing to Michigan State 4-2 in their Frozen Four semifinal in St. Louis.
Whitehead said he was “proud of the guys” he has coached over the years in the NCAA tournament and downplayed his role in it.
“It’s not the coaching,” he said.
Whitehead said he and his coaching staffs have made a concerted effort over the years “not to change our regular routine.”
“You don’t want to start having morning skates when you haven’t had them all season,” said Whitehead. “And it’s important to limit the distractions.
“You don’t want your players to have any additional stress,” he said.
At the DCU Center, formerly known as the Worcester Centrum, Maine is 7-1 in NCAA tournament play.
Minnesota-Duluth second-year assistant coach Derek Plante fondly recalls playing in the East-West Senior College All-Star Game at the University of Maine’s Alfond Arena in 1993.
Plante was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award that season but lost out to the University of Maine’s Paul Kariya.
Kariya, a freshman, had 100 points while Plante, who played for UMD, racked up 92 points.
“That was cool,” said Plante. “I had never played there before. Everyone knew about Maine and their tradition.”
He said he enjoyed meeting players he had played against throughout his career and will always remember the lobster feed.
“They fed 40 players lobster. I thought lobster was expensive,” chuckled Plante.
Several of the players had never had lobster before so they had to learn how to pry the meat from the shell.
“We found a way,” said Plante, who went on to play 17 years as a pro, including 450 games in the NHL, primarily for the Buffalo Sabres. He had 96 goals and 152 assists.
Whitehead and UMD coach Scott Sandelin are looking to schedule a home-and-home series.
“We’ve been talking about it for a while but we had to wait and see how all the leagues were going to work themselves out,” said Whitehead referring to the major overhaul for the 2013-14 season that will see two new conferences: the Big Ten Conference and the National Collegiate Hockey Conference.
The remaining Central Collegiate Hockey Conference teams will join the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
“We like to play great teams and have our players get a chance to see different parts of the country and different arenas. It’s good for them,” said Sandelin.
University of Maine associate head coach Bob Corkum played on Maine’s first NCAA tournament team in the 1986-87 season. A year later, Maine went to its first Frozen Four.
Maine lost to Michigan State in a two-game, total-goal series (11-5) in 1986-87 and lost to Lake Superior State 6-3 in the semifinals at Lake Placid the next year.
He said making his first appearance as a coach is “very exciting.”
He said he will be a “little more nervous” than he was as a player.
“As a coach, you can’t directly impact the game,” said Corkum, who is in his fourth season at Maine. “As a player, you can.”
He said the Black Bears are ready for Saturday night’s game against Minnesota-Duluth.
“We had a good week in practice,” he said.
Howland’s Josh Seeley, Maine’s popular third-string goalie who has played in just two games in his career but has been with the program for four years, said getting to an NCAA Regional in his senior year is special.
“It’s great to be a part of this,” said Seeley. “It’s a good experience.”
He said he feels bad for last year’s seniors who came so close to getting to a regional but he feels they can take credit for helping to build the foundation that led to this year’s showing.
Boston College junior defenseman and Hobey Baker Award finalist Brian Dumoulin of Biddeford said he would like to see his Eagles and the Black Bears tangle again on Sunday.
Boston College beat Maine 4-1 in the Hockey East championship game last Saturday night at the TD Garden.
“It would be good to see some familiar faces. We’ve played them so many times,” said Dumoulin. “And I think it would bring a lot of people to the game.”
If Maine beats Minnesota-Duluth on Saturday and Boston College beats Air Force, the Black Bears and the Eagles would be meeting for the 11th time in Dumoulin’s three seasons.
BC is 6-3-1 against Maine since Dumoulin arrived.