A few times this past winter, as he coached the Messalonskee High School ice hockey team to a second consecutive regional title, Mike Latendresse’s thoughts drifted 20 years back, to a Saturday night in Milwaukee.
“I did think about it these last two, three months,” Latendresse said. “I said to myself, ‘Wow, it’s been 20 years.’ ”
This past Wednesday was the 20th anniversary of the biggest sports event to ever hit Maine. On April 3, 1993, the University of Maine men’s ice hockey team beat Lake Superior State, 5-4, to win the national championship. Latendresse assisted on Maine’s first goal, scored by Patrice Tardif.
Maine went 42-1-2 that season, and was arguably the best college hockey team of all time.
“That’s the best team I’ve ever been on,” Latendresse, who went on to play professional hockey for five years, said. “From coaching down, the quality we had on that team was incredible.
“I think we knew fairly early we were a good team. Right around Christmas break, we knew something special was going on here.”
The 1992-93 Maine ice hockey team was freakishly good. It averaged approximately 6.5 goals per game. Seven players scored at least 20 goals. Six players scored at least 50 points. Paul Kariya scored 25 goals and 75 assists. Jim Montgomery, the captain who scored a hat trick in the third period of the national championship game, had 32 goals and 63 assists. Latendresse had 21 goals and 30 assists.
In comparison, only one player taking part in this season’s Frozen Four had a 50-point season, Drew LeBlanc of Saint Cloud State, and he has 50 points, exactly half of Kariya’s 100 in 1993.
In all of Division I, only seven players have 50 points. Colorado College’s Ryan Schwartz leads the nation in scoring with 20 goals and 33 assists for 53 points. Stats like the ones we see this season in college hockey are much closer to the norm, and only emphasize the dominance of the ‘93 Black Bears.
“We were deep, as far as forward lines go,” Latendresse, who that season skated on a line with Tardif and Eric Fenton, said. “That’s something not every team is capable of doing. We had size, we had speed. We had great goaltending. We were almost a perfect team.”
There’s nothing on the University of Maine’s athletic department web site, GoBlackBears.com, commemorating the ‘93 men’s hockey team. Latendresse said he wasn’t surprised or disappointed the university did nothing to honor the team this past season.
“They may do something next year. This year, the way the season went for them, maybe it was not the time,” Latendresse said.
Maine finished the 2012-13 season with a record of 11-19-8. For the fifth time in six seasons, the NCAA tournament went on without the Black Bears participation. Maybe, honoring the program’s successful past at a time when the team is struggling would only rile up a fan base frustrated by recent failures.
Even so, there had to be a way to celebrate the past without living in it. There had to be a way to say thanks to the team that won Maine’s first national championship.
Latendresse hopes the Black Bears bounce back soon. He was encouraged by the way they improved in the second half of the season.
“It starts with recruiting and coaching. It’s very different than where it was,” Latendresse said.
The 20 years went by too quickly, but every time Latendresse brings his Messalonskee team to play at Alfond Arena in Orono, he remembers what he was a part of.
“It’s a fantastic place to play,” Latendresse said. “It’s a fantastic place to win.”
Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242