WORCESTER, Mass. — The UMaine fans came in a steady stream Saturday afternoon at Maxwell Silverman’s Toolhouse Restaurant.
There were kids, teenagers, college students; men and women young and old. Many wore UMaine hockey jerseys that included the names of players such as Doug Janik and Tanner House. Another sported a T-shirt proclaiming the Bears’ 1999 national championship.
Somewhere admidst the comings and goings, someone found a ticket to Saturday night’s game on the ground outside. It was brought into the restaurant in the hope of finding its owner.
Among the patrons, and the earliest arrivals, were brothers Jim Norris and Steve Norris.
Both men have followed UMaine hockey, though not closely in recent years. Their brother Pete used to work at the university and was closely affiliated with Black Bears hockey.
Jim Norris said a friend, Charlie Carter of Greenville, had asked him whether he planned to attend Saturday’s game.
“It stuck in my mind that why not, it’s in the Northeast,” said Jim Norris, who lives in Winthrop. “I called him (Steve) this morning at 8 o’clock and here we are.”
Steve Norris, who owns Pine Tree Lodge at Grand Lake Stream, had been exposed to some of UMaine’s greatest teams. Pete Norris, who ran Nicatous Lodge, had previously hosted UMaine hockey players for team-building activities.
Steve recalled watching the video “42-1-2” that detailed UMaine’s first championship season in 1992-93.
“He (Pete Norris) turned the generator on at the lodge so they could run the VHS tape player at the time and run that 42-1-2,” Steve recalled. “I’m sitting between (Jim) Montgomery and (Cal) Ingraham. For the fan, it was the greatest thing you could ever imagine.”
The Norrises weren’t the typical Black Bear fans joining in the pregame festivities.
Among the dedicated, longtime fans who turned out at Silverman’s were Linda O’Clair of Old Town and Joan Fournier of Millinocket.
Fournier “inherited” her season tickets after her mother, Alta Clark, passed away a few years ago. Fournier has remained a loyal fan through some leaner years.
“Good or bad, a lot of people are there for Maine,” Fournier said. “The kids are really good. They have a tremendous rapport with their fans. They’re out there playing their hearts out. Why not support them?”
Fournier, whose daughter Jordan has been attending UMaine games since she was an infant, senses the program is re-gaining some momentum.
“It’s pretty promising,” Jordan Fournier said. “It’s good to see them go further. They’ve showed a lot of progression this year, determination.”
Joan Fournier has already purchased four tickets and plans to attend the Frozen Four in Tampa, Fla.
O’Clair got interested in hockey many years ago when she worked in UMaine’s hockey office. When she changed jobs, her access to tickets was severed.
“I had to get in line for season tickets,” she said. “I think I had to wait five years.”
O’Clair has maintained them for more than 20 years.
She views the Regional experience as a big plus for Black Bear players and fans alike.
“It give them experience for an opportunity they might have in the future,” O’Clair said. “For the school, I think a lot of the people that doubted (coach) Tim Whitehead, I think this kind of reassures that some of the old season-ticket holders might come back and maybe bring more.”
O’Clair said part of the fun of following the Bears is mingling with other fans and meeting some of the players’ parents.
“We got to Pat’s Pizza a lot after (home) games and a lot of the parents go there with their sons,” O’Clair said. “I think that’s really nice.”
After dinner and some beverages, the fans headed over to the DCU Center to see if the Bears could earn a Regional victory.
Regional continues UMaine trend
This weekend’s appearance by UMaine in the regional continues what has been a successful recent trend among Black Bear teams.
Men’s hockey becomes the third Black Bears team in three consecutive sports seasons to reach the NCAA playoffs. It joins baseball, which won the 2011 America East championship, and football, which claimed a spot in the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
“We’ve had three teams in the NCAA playoffs within a one-year span,” said UMaine athletic director Steve Abbott. “I think that’s something that helps lift the whole department, the whole university. It’s a very exciting thing.”
Abbott also offered that a victory by UMaine hockey over Minnesota-Duluth on Saturday night would give the Bears three teams with NCAA victories spanning the most recently completed spring, fall and winter seasons.
“That’s a big deal,” said Abbott, who pointed out UMaine registered a baseball victory over Florida International in the NCAA Chapel Hill Regional and football claimed a win over Appalachian State in the first round of the FCS playoffs.
Hockey success should boost fans
UMaine’s hockey success this winter, including its first regional appearance since 2007, should pay dividends for the athletic program.
The Bears, led by the potent first line of Spencer Abbott, Brian Flynn and Joey Diamond, have helped re-energize their fan base. Attendance at Alfond Arena dipped slightly from an average of 4,927 fans in 2010-11 to 4,437 this season.
UMaine had a strong showing of fans during the Hockey East semifinals and finals last weekend at TD Garden in Boston and was expected to bring a large contingent to the DCU Center in Worcester on Saturday night.
“It’s a huge boost for season tickets,” Abbott said. “One of the things is, it reminds people of the level that this program competes at. You realize the level of competition that you see in Orono, Maine, and [as] we get ready next season to promote the program to sell season tickets, that’s a great selling point for our fans.”