That Alfie Michaud and Ben Guite were driving together last week somewhere through Canada was not surprising.

They are assistant coaches on the University of Maine men’s ice hockey team – Guite, the associate head coach to Red Gendron – and were on a recruiting trip, though they wouldn’t say where.

“I’m where hopefully no one else is,” said Michaud, the former Black Bears goalie.

But Guite and Michaud didn’t need a recruiting trip as an excuse to be together. They are members of the 1999 NCAA champion men’s ice hockey team that made an improbable run to a national title. The Black Bears defeated rival New Hampshire 3-2 in overtime in Anaheim, California, on April 3, 1999, to win the program’s second national championship. And its last.

“We all did it together,” said the 42-year-old Michaud, who was named the Most Outstanding Player in the Frozen Four that year, making 46 saves in the title game. “We were the castoffs, a lot of us, the misfits. We all had that chip on our shoulders to prove everybody wrong. And it happened that year. Every piece fell into place and we got a championship.”

The Black Bears weren’t all misfits. Maine didn’t have the top-tier talent of the 1993 championship team, which featured Paul Kariya, Jim Montgomery, twins Peter and Chris Ferraro, Garth Snow, Mike Dunham and Chris Imes. But the 1999 Black Bears had two first-team all-America selections in Steve Kariya and David Cullen. Nine players went on to play in the NHL. And Maine was picked to finish second in the preseason Hockey East poll.

But it was also a team still rebounding from NCAA sanctions, slapped on the program in 1995 for violating NCAA eligibility rules. The team lost scholarships, was banned from the NCAA tournament and television for two years and saw Coach Shawn Walsh suspended for a year. Several of the team’s top players left the program after the sanctions were put in place.

And that is what made this 31-6-4 championship team so special.

“It created the bond of a lifetime,” said Guite. “To this day, one guy will send an email or text to another guy and then next thing you know there’s a thread of like 150 messages, guys going at each other like they did back then. It’s never over. That’s what it’s all about.”

This might have been the greatest coaching performance by Walsh, who died in September 2001 of complications from kidney cancer. He knew when, and how, to challenge his players to play better.

“It was a unique group of players,” said former assistant coach Grant Standbrook. “They were a scruffy bunch in a lot of ways. But they had a combination of skill and drive. And I think above all else, they had heart and discipline.”

And that’s what made this team appealing. Matt Taylor, a 911 dispatcher for the Portland Police Department, was 14 in 1999. This was the first UMaine hockey team he followed. “It didn’t have the household name,” he said. “This was a working class team and that appealed to all blue-collar Mainers. And not just in the Bangor area, but in Southern Maine too.

“It was a team that kind of snuck up on people.”

When the players look back at that team, they talk about a willingness to do whatever it took to win. Guite, 40, spoke of Anders Lundback and A.J. Begg, both recruited as forwards but converted to defensemen midway through the season to solidify the blue line. “You had to let go of your ego a little bit,” said Guite. “It was about guys buying into their roles. Those two guys took the change in their positions in stride. That’s the type of sacrifices we made all season.”

“That team, our common goal was to win,” said Brendan Walsh, now 44 and a Boston Police officer and no relation to the former coach. “There wasn’t a guy on that team who was worried about points. At the end of the day, the only thing that mattered was for us to be the last team left.”

Standbrook, in looking back at the season, went through the entire roster, talking about what each player brought to the team. “Those guys just refused to lose,” he said. “I don’t think anyone thought we were going to get into the playoffs for the league, let alone win the (national title). But we had the right guys to complement each other.”

Now retired, 81 and living in Florida with his wife, Joy, Standbrook still stays in touch with every player on the roster. He hopes to be able to travel to Montreal in July when the players get together to celebrate the anniversary of their championship.

“It was like they were my family,” said Standbrook. “They made an impact on me. And if it was reciprocal, good.”

The players speak reverentially of Standbrook, who provided a softer voice than Shawn Walsh. “(Walsh) pushed you hard,” said Guite. “But he instilled discipline and attention to detail that were going to help you …  At times you may have hated him, but when you look back at it, everything he taught was applicable to any success in life.”

Standbrook likely recruited every one of the players on that team. And it wasn’t easy. One of the first things he had to talk about was finances because Maine didn’t have a lot of scholarship money to offer. “A lot of them came on the credit card,” said Standbrook. “My first question to the kids was, ‘What does your dad do?’ ”

Standbrook brought in some talented freshmen – Niko Dimitrakos, Barrett Heisten, defensemen Peter Metcalf and Doug Janik – to go along with veterans like Kariya (who led the team with 27 goals and 38 assists), Jason Vitorino, Marcus Gustafsson, Bobby Stewart and Cullen. Brendan Walsh was eligible after sitting out a year after transferring from Boston University.

“That was the only time I ever won a championship as a player,” said Kariya, now 41 and a pro scout for the New York Islanders, scouting West Coast NHL and AHL teams. “After I retired, I coached one year with the Portland Winterhawks (of the western Hockey League) and I was fortunate to win one there. Two things struck me about those teams – the closeness of the players and how much they worked for one another, how much they enjoyed spending time together every day.

“The chemistry was fantastic. We had a terrific bunch of guys who wanted to do everything we could to make sure we could skate around that ice with that championship trophy.”

The Black Bears were also pretty tough. “I know that any team who played us was bruised for a few days,” said Standbrook.

Maine was coming off a 17-15-4 season. But the players came into the season believing they could contend for a championship.

The Black Bears got off to a 25-3-4 start in 1998-99 before losing twice at rival New Hampshire, 6-1 and 4-1, to finish the regular season. Then Maine lost 3-2 to Boston College in the Hockey East championship game.

“That was the wake-up call for us,” said Brendan Walsh. “We knew our season was going to go one way or the other.”

Maine received an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. Michaud made 20 saves as Maine defeated Ohio State 4-2 in the first round. The next night, Kariya had three goals and three assists in a 7-2 rout of Clarkson. And it was on to California.

The Black Bears defeated BC 2-1 in overtime in the national semifinals, a goal by Dimitrakos tying the game in the third period, Stewart winning it in overtime on a pass from Dimitrakos. Then Maine faced its neighbor, New Hampshire,  in the championship game. Goals by Guite, in the first period, and Dimitrakos, in the second, gave the Black Bears a 2-0 lead. But New Hampshire tied it on goals by Darren Haydar, in the second, and Mike Souza, 3:33 into the third.

On to overtime. And the Black Bears weren’t fazed.

“There wasn’t any pressure,” said Michaud. “We were so into the moment. A lot of us didn’t realize how big it was. We just went out and played. That’s the way it was for us. We prepped the same way to play an exhibition game as we did for the national championship. That was the expectations that Shawn and Grant had on us. We did things right.”

Gustafsson, who was one of five seniors who stayed in Orono despite the NCAA sanctions, ended the game at 10:50 of sudden-death overtime when he slammed his rebound past New Hampshire’s Ty Conklin. Corey Larose sent the pass to Gustafsson, whose shot went into Conklin’s pads.

As Conklin lunged for the rebound, Gustafsson reached out and put the puck into the net. And the celebration began.

“I was the first to grab Marcus,” said Kariya. “And Dave Cullen was right behind me. He started yelling and I think he broke my ear drum.”

Kariya said he looked back and saw everyone celebrating – players, coaches, support staff and fans.

“All of us felt the same thing,” said Kariya. “We wanted to be part of bringing the program back to national prominence. Before the NCAA sanctions, they were always perennial contenders. And to be honest, we had guys leave for other schools those two years. But those who stayed, we fought through it. It was very rewarding for all of us.”

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH

Related Headlines


Comments are not available on this story.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.