WATERVILLE — It’s been 25 years since the University of Maine won the NCAA Division I ice hockey championship, the first hockey title for any Maine school at any level. This weekend, Colby College will try to become the first program in the state to win a Division III championship when it heads to Lake Placid, New York for the Frozen Four.

The Mules, unbeaten in nine straight games, will play No. 1 St. Norbert College in a national semifinal at 6:30 p.m., Friday. The winner advances to the championship game Saturday at 7 p.m.

There are similarities between the two championship runs, Maine’s in 1993 and Colby’s this month. And if anyone would recognize a resemblance, it would be Mules assistant coach Mike Latendresse.

“I was just talking to (head coach Blaise MacDonald) about it the other day,” said Latendresse, now 47, who was a freshman on the Black Bears 1993 title team. “We had a great head coach in Shawn Walsh, and I think we have a great head coach now in Blaise. The players, too. We had the ability to score a crazy amount of goals back in the day, we could do a lot of damage. In a similar way, I think we have that with the Mules, too. And there’s the similarity in goaltenders. Mike Dunham and Garth Snow both went on to play in the NHL, and Sean Lawrence is playing so well right now. We had a defensive corps that was solid, and that’s what we have now.

“This run here has really brought back a lot of memories for me.”

Latendresse, who coached Messalonskee High School to the 2014 Class B state championship, is in his fifth season as a part-time assistant at Colby. Latendresse scored 41 goals in two seasons at Maine and another 122 in five years of minor league hockey. Now, he is in charge of Colby’s power play and handles the forward group on the bench during games.

Colby’s leading scorer for each of the last two seasons, senior winger Phil Klitirinos, credits Latendresse with helping develop his game.

“I think Mike’s awesome,” said Klitirinos, a Quebec native who has 54 points over the last two seasons. “He’s been great to work with. He always made me realize that I have a second or two that I didn’t think I have. Sometimes you’re on the ice, and Mike reminds you that you have an extra second to take your time and it’s helped my game a lot, making plays and finding my teammates out there.”

When Latendresse left Quebec for the world of college hockey in the early 1990s, he never imagined he’d become a fixture in central Maine hockey circles. But he’s raised a family in Winslow, bought ownership in Joseph’s Sporting Goods in Waterville and carved his primary career working for the Dead River Company in the heating and energy industry.

“I don’t know if it’s a big legacy, but being part of this community is special to me for a lot of reasons,” Latendresse said. “My wife is from the central Maine area. My coaching tenure at Messalonskee was very special. The last several years at Colby has been great.

“There’s a great hockey history here with some of the high schools and colleges. Being a Black Bear and staying in the state of Maine is pretty special for me. Who the Black Bears are and what they represent, winning that first national championship and what we were able to accomplish, it’s something that means a lot to me.”

So much so that the Mules plan on watching “Out of the Woods,” a film documenting the 1993 championship season, on the ride to Lake Placid.

“You get credibility a lot of times as a coach in hockey through your background as a player,” said MacDonald, who was an assistant coach at Boston University when Latendresse was at Maine. “I coached against Mike and I saw firsthand what a tremendous player he was. He had tremendous tenacity and gameness, and it allowed him to play at a different level. He’s able to transfer all of that knowledge and experience as a player and communicate that to players as a coach now. Not all players who played at a high level can do that.”

Coaching wasn’t always in Latendresse’s plans, but he was thrown into the role somewhat reluctantly while with the Birmingham Bulls of the East Coast Hockey League in the 1996-97 season. A severe laceration on his arm kept him out of action at the same time Birmingham fired its coach.

Latendresse was then pressed into duty behind the bench.

“I like the chess match of the game,” Latendresse said. “I enjoy the back and forth, the preparation for games. Depending on the level you’re at, you have an impact on individuals. You try to make a positive impact, that’s something you always as a teacher or a coach look for.”

And while Latendresse is having an impact on the Mules’ run in the NCAA tournament this month, there’s also the effect they are having on him.

He’s remembering his first trip to a Frozen Four 25 years ago.

“It’s a different feeling, yes, but definitely going back to a Frozen Four brings those memories back,” Latendresse said. “I’m so proud of the players and what they’ve accomplished. It was a special group back then, just like this was a special group. It doesn’t happen too often.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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