Editor’s Note: As University of Maine sports fans hunker down amid concerns about the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, the BDN hopes to inspire fans by recounting stories of some of the most memorable Black Bear games in program history.
Jimmy Howard has vivid memories of the University of Maine’s Hockey East championship game against the University of Massachusetts at TD Garden in Boston.
It was March 20, 2004, and the goalie was locked in a scintillating duel with Gabe Winer, one that wasn’t decided until 10:33 remaining in the third overtime.
Ben Murphy tipped Mat Deschamps’ shot from the point past Winer to give the Black Bears a 2-1 victory in a game that lasted 109 minutes, 27 seconds.
It was the longest championship game in Hockey East history.
Howard finished with a school-record 63 saves and Winer stopped 59.
“Going into the third overtime, I remember watching guys scrambling to get food into them to replenish: Oranges, apples, bananas,” Howard said.
“To this day, I can picture where everyone was sitting in the dressing room,” said the 13-year National Hockey League veteran with the Detroit Red Wings.
Howard made several terrific saves in the game, including one that he will never forget on future NHL defenseman Thomas Pock.
“I remember him coming in on the strong side and making a move. He might have gotten around someone. He was in all alone and I was just able to get the tip of my glove on it. I was in desperation [mode],” said Howard, who was peppered with 19 shots in the first overtime.
Exhaustion set in for all the players as the game wore on.
“I was going on adrenaline,” Howard said. “It was an intense situation. Everything was on the line.
“When I look back on it now, it was just about the most fun I’ve ever had playing hockey. Because we won,” he said with a chuckle.
He remembers Murphy’s exuberant reaction after scoring the game-winner.
“He was sprinting up the ice [toward me] and sliding on his knees. I met him on the blue line,” Howard said. “I think that’s the fastest I’ve ever seen him move.”
He described the moment as surreal and called his performance among his personal top five.
“It’s a memory that ranks up there with being with the Wings when they won the Stanley Cup in 2008 and winning a gold medal with the U.S. team in the World Junior championships in 2002.”
Dustin Penner staked UMaine to a 1-0 lead on the power play at 16:24 of the second period but Greg Mauldin forced overtime, also on the man advantage, with 6:13 left.
UMaine advanced to play in the NCAA championship game at the Fleet Center later that year and lost to Denver 1-0.
UMaine, which posted a 33-8-3 record, had an apparent game-opening goal by Derek Damon waved off because teammate Mike Hamilton’s skate was in the crease.
“If that hadn’t been called back, there would have been a different outcome. We would have had a third national championship banner,” Howard said.
He said that that UMaine team was special and it didn’t matter who was on the ice, including between the pipes, because Frank Doyle also had a tremendous year.
“We had a great group. Everybody did their jobs. We all played for each other,” Howard said.
Howard, who was a sophomore, had a remarkable season. He posted a 14-4-3 record and set school records that still stand with a 1.19 goals-against average, a .956 save percentage and six shutouts. He had six shutouts again the following season.
Doyle, who was a junior, went 19-4 with a 1.81 GAA and a .923 save percentage.