East Regional Final Notebook
by Matt Conyers/CHN Correspondent
ALBANY, N.Y They're back.
The Black Bears, after a one-year hiatus will return to the Frozen Four, this year in Milwaukee. The Bradley Center, the host of the Championship, was the site of the first Black Bears' Championship in 1993. Maine will be eager to make some new memories in Wisconsin and shake off some of its recent postseason heartaches.
The Black Bears have lost in the National Championship in their last two Frozen Four appearances, in 2002 and 2004. Maine, however, looks poised to make a run at the title thanks to another remarkable trip to Albany. After trouncing Harvard on Saturday, 6-1, Maine was just as impressive outlasting a great Michigan State team. That makes Maine 5-0 all-time in the Pepsi Arena.
From the start of the season, Maine has felt it could accomplish something special this year. Even when it was residing at a disappointing 7-7 in Hockey East, the squad was well aware of what could happen if they put the pieces together.
"When we went 7-7-0 in middle of December, I am sure everyone was counting out us out," said assistant captain Michel Leveille. "But we knew we had a good team and that we could do something special. You just never give up. And look what happens. Things turn around."
Bye-Bye Scoring Woes
The Black Bears said sayonara to a 706-day NCAA tournament scoring draught Saturday when they pilfered the Harvard net six times. With the Black Bears' offense soaring, the squad ended a 198 minute, 16 second problem in the postseason. The streak dated back to Maine's agonizing defeat to Denver in the 2004 National Championship game. The six goals were also the most Maine had tallied in a tournament game since 2002 against UNH it won 7-2 in the National semifinals. The success continued Sunday when the Black Bears netted four goals against one of the best teams in the country, Michigan State.
Harvard? Bring'em on
One thing is for sure. The Black Bears really like playing Harvard in the postseason. After Saturday's decisive 6-1 victory, Maine ran its record to 3-0 against the Crimson in the NCAA tournament. Even weirder is the fact that ever since 2002, the two foes have met every other year in Regional action.
Pepsi Arena filled was filled with familiar faces Saturday. The most notable of those faces, which had some connection to Maine, was Harvard forward Dan Murphy, the brother of former Black Bear Ben Murphy. Maine's gentle Ben, however, could not be found at the game, since he is playing in the Central League.
Others with connections to the Black Bear program were Billy Ryan's Milton, Ontario, neighbor Brendan Byrne of Harvard and Ryan Maki, who played with Ryan on the U.S. development team. And of course, every Mainers' favorite neighboring team, UNH, played in the opening game of the day. The Wildcats lost 1-0 to the Spartans. The next day it was more of the same with Greg Moore having played with Michigan State's Corey Potter, Brandon Gentile, Bryan Lerg and David Booth
Welcome to Mini-Alfond Arena, New York Style
Thanks to a rather formidable legion of Black Bear fans, Pepsi Arena turned into an emptier version of Alfond Arena.
"You just got to love our fans, they are more than unbelievable," said defenseman Bret Tyler. "Those fans are something. The way they came out here tonight in a pack behind our net, cheering us on like it's Alfond just made us feel at home. We felt we were at Alfond."
Whitehead also touched on why the Black Bears love Albany.
"We just love Albany," said Whitehead. "The water, the air, the rain, the clouds; we like this stadium. We have some great memories here."
Maine has advanced to the Frozen Four every year they have played in the Pepsi Arena for a regional.
Enjoying the Spotlight
Maine, with its run to the Frozen Four, is now 14-6 in its last 20 tournament games. The mark spans the past eight seasons, five of which Tim Whitehead has been at the helm. More importantly, those eight years feature four Frozen Four appearances, three national title games, and one national championship in 1999.
Whitehead has brought Maine to two National title games in five years with the program. Both of those National title appearances have appeared in even years, 2002 and 2004. Is this time it finally happens for Whitehead?
John Hopson must really like his brother. Even more so after this weekend. Not only did John come to Maine to play with his brother Keenan, but on both goals this weekend Keenan assisted. John, a senior who transferred from Alaska-Anchorage after two and a half seasons, has notched 10 goals on the year. Keenan has assisted on six on those 10.
About his poised play in the postseason as a freshman:
"I am just trying to stay relaxed and not too worked up," said goalie Ben Bishop.
About the weird bounces that can come off the boards at Pepsi Arena, which almost hurt Maine twice in MSU game:
"You've got to be focused about it when the puck is coming around because you don't know what it is going to do. I was not going to let it beat me," said Bishop
On Jeff Lerg, the 5-7 goalie for Michigan State, who the Black Bears faced:
"I kind of knew him growing up; I played against as a kid a couple of times," said Bishop. "He is a great goaltender. He was always an elite goaltender growing up. I know he can get the job done too."
On Maine's tenacious play in the opening ten minutes of the tourney:
"It's the NCAA's, if you're not coming out like that then you shouldn't be in this sport at all," said Billy Ryan. "It's do or die."
On Bret Tyler's goal, which came 25 seconds after Harvard scored on Saturday:
"That was a huge goal; it was an unbelievable play by him," said Ryan. "He circled the net and put it in. That's the type of player that he is. He can change the mindset of the game."
How the BC loss in the Hockey East tournament fueled the fire for Maine:
"A few of us, the top guys, didn't think we played well against BC," said Michel Leveille. "We just wanted redemption and show the guys were going to be the leaders out there."
On Michigan State:
"I am just glad to play a new team that I haven't played," said Leveille.
On Chris Hahn, who replaced a suspended Derek Damon, Maine's fourth-leading point man, on Saturday:
"He played incredible," said Leveille. "Obviously if it wasn't Derek's spot, I would keep him in."