ORONO, Maine — Tom Savage of Bangor never played hockey, but he has been going to University of Maine men’s hockey games since the inception of the program in 1977.
The retired lawyer developed a passion for the sport and found it is one shared by people across the state.
When the Black Bears won the first of their two national championships during the 1992-93 season, he was overwhelmed with pride.
Savage and his wife, Sally, want the hockey program to continue to compete for NCAA championships, so they have donated $1 million to launch the Savage Challenge, a five-year endowment drive for the men’s hockey program.
“The Savages have been loyal supporters and donors for years. They’re true blue all the way,” said University of Maine President Susan Hunter.
“This is monumental,” said Maine second-year head coach Red Gendron. “We want to endow this program to the point where we don’t have to be in the business of raising funds. You ask and you endow, and then you won’t have to send letters or make phone calls to raise money.
“For me, personally, I feel uncomfortable asking people for money. Truth be told, I haven’t asked often,” he added.
The Savage Challenge was announced Tuesday in front of a packed crowd at the Alfond Family Lounge. Every dollar raised through contributions from Maine hockey alumni and former coaches will be matched, up to $1 million.
“I got worried. I watched a lot of programs get endowments … a lot of money. And we need to support it,” Tom Savage said. “I’m fortunate enough to be able to do it, and I thought this would be a way others can get involved and provide us with the wherewithal we need to compete at the [national] level I know we can.”
With some Maine hockey alumni approaching age 60, Savage hopes they are willing to contribute.
“I’m sure they will. I’m hoping this gives them a little push,” he said
Savage said he and his wife travel all over the country. Everywhere they go, people ask them about Maine hockey.
“Growing up in Maine and living in Maine, winning national championships give us a sense of pride, and I hope we can do it again,” he said.
Sally Savage said she is thrilled about the donation because she has witnessed her husband’s passion for college hockey and the Black Bears.
“I watched his relationships with the athletic directors and coaches through the years, and he thought very carefully, so when he made the decision, it was something he was very committed to and very excited about. And I’m right behind him,” she said.
The alumni also will need to get behind the program financially.
“A million dollars is a lot of money,” Gendron said. “Now our hockey alums, players and coaches, including me, have to raise the money. The point is if we do it right, we do it just once, and we allow the money to work for us for all time,” said Gendron.
The hockey budget for this season is $1.3 million according to sports information specialist Laura Reed. That includes salaries, travel, equipment and other expenses, but it doesn’t include athletic scholarships.
Athletic director Karlton Creech said the power of endowments has proven to be successful at other institutions across the country, but the University of Maine hasn’t had a strong tradition in endowments.
“This is a huge deal. This will pay forever. It is a lasting gift which is something Tom and Sally really wanted,” Creech said. “The way endowments are invested at most universities, and here at the University of Maine through the UMaine Foundation, is a very conservative distribution each year so it maintains the principle of the gift and it continues to grow over time and then that distribution continues to increase.
“This is fantastic,” said former Black Bear forward Ben Guite, who is an assistant coach. “Being able to operate on a yearly basis without worrying about where the money is going to come from is huge. Fundraising is time-consuming. This enables us to focus on recruiting and a lot of different things.”
From the first day he took the job, Gendron has been adamant about getting the alumni involved in the program, and he keeps them abreast of its progress by regular emails.
“It’s vital that people feel connected,” said Gendron. “The University of Maine and the men’s hockey program is family. It always has been and always will be. It encompasses players, former players, coaches and administrators here at the university as well as the fans and the citizens in the entire state.”
Former Maine captain Peter Metcalf said he talks to people from all walks of life about University of Maine hockey and it “makes you realize how many lives you touched when you played here.”
Metcalf played on the 1998-99 NCAA championship team that will be honored at the Nov. 14 home game against Boston University.
University of Maine captain Devin Shore called the donation “incredible.”
“It’s just another reminder of the special place it is here and how many people care about the program. It makes us want to make all of them proud,” said Shore.