Isn’t it interesting how history repeats itself? On March 15, 1987, the University of Maine’s hockey team played in its first Hockey East semifinal in Boston Garden.
The Black Bears had put together their first winning campaign after five consecutive losing seasons but needed a win over UMass Lowell in the semifinal to earn their first-ever NCAA Tournament berth.
Maine trailed 4-2 with just 4:02 remaining.
But the Black Bears scored three goals in a span of 2:32 — two by Mike McHugh sandwiching one by current Black Bear assistant Bob Corkum — to pull out the 5-4 win. Despite losing 4-2 to Boston College in the championship game the next night, they earned a trip to Michigan State for a two-games, total-goals NCAA series.
That was the first of 17 NCAA Tournament berths.
This past Sunday, again it was the River Hawks standing in the way of a significant accomplishment for Maine.
UML was trying to prevent Maine from reaching the semifinals for the fourth straight season.
Previously, Maine had never gone more than two consecutive seasons without reaching the semis.
Like that game 23 years ago, Maine had to overcome a deficit and did so in the game’s final five minutes.
Will O’Neill’s tying goal came with 4:48 remaining.
And it was a member of the top line who scored the winning goal as McHugh was on Maine’s top line in ’87, and Tanner House, who scored the overtime game-winner, is Maine’s first- line center.
This year’s team will finish with a winning record after two losing seasons.
The remaining questions are can this team win the Hockey East title and earn its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2007 and will the quarterfinal series win, after dropping the first game, jumpstart Maine’s eventual return to prominence in future years?
This Maine team had 12 freshmen and sophomores compared to UMass Lowell’s six. The River Hawks had nine seniors to Maine’s three.
The resilient Bears have had a season full of adversity. Only four players have played in all 37 games.
The suspension of starting goalie Scott Darling 12 days ago left them inexperienced between the pipes and also served as a distraction.
Injuries sustained by senior defensemen-turned-center Brett Carriere and junior defenseman Mike Banwell on Friday night left them thin and when junior defenseman Jeff Dimmen got hurt on Saturday night and was scratched right before Sunday’s game, freshman center Matt Mangene was forced to play defense for the first time in his college career.
To erase a pair of one-goal deficits against the ninth stingiest team in the country (2.36 goals per game allowed) and one of the nation’s best goaltenders (Carter Hutton) was a significant accomplishment.
Prior to the series opener, Maine had won just two of its previous eight games and then in Friday’s 2-1 loss, the Bears were possibly denied a goal because the audio wasn’t hooked up to the video for the review of a disputed goal.
That could have set the stage for a UML sweep.
But seldom-used senior Dave Wilson notched his second career shutout on Saturday (2-0) and was solid in Sunday’s win.
He could have put his senior year on cruise control but he never stopped working and his perseverance was rewarded and his team rallied behind him.
Maybe in a few years, we’ll look back on the night of March 14, 2010 like we did on the evening of March 15, 1987.