By Matthew Cunha
Wednesday and Thursday are the only days in the nation with none of the four major professional sports taking place. In my book, that means that they are the worst two days of the year. Since options for this blog are limited, I think I’ll reminisce a little bit as to why I feel so much pain without any sports.
I often associate my love of sports to the 2004 Red Sox. Staying up late to watch the Sox climb back from a 3-0 deficit vs the Yankees will forever be one of the greatest moments of my young life. What got me addicted to sports truly and deeply was not the Red Sox, but another team that made a deep playoff run. About six months before the Red Sox won their first World Series since the Woodrow Wilson administration, the University of Maine men’s hockey team got me hopelessly hooked on sport.
Jimmy Howard, Dustin Penner, Prestin Ryan, Greg Moore, Michel Leveille and company made it all the way to the National Championship game before falling to Denver 1-0. My nine year old self remembers in detail their entire run, because that was the season my dad purchased season tickets at the Alfond. Living an hour and a half away, I spent many long nights (for a nine year old) traveling back and forth to games. Their run started by knocking off UMass in triple OT 2-1 in the Hockey East championship game thanks to Ben Murphy. The number one seeded Black Bears then opened the NCAA tournament against Harvard.
The game was the biggest comeback (at the time) I remember experiencing in my young life. Maine trailed Harvard 4-1 going into the third period. I remember yelling at the TV and storming into my room refusing to watch any of the last period. After Mike Hamilton and Prestin Ryan reduced the deficit to just a goal, my parents forced me to come out of my room and watch the rest of the game. Michel Leveille would tie the game and soon later Greg Moore would give the Bears the lead for good. Moore would be my first ever favorite player. I still have a signed hat from Greg Moore prominently displayed at my parents’ house. In the regional final, Maine once again won in dramatic fashion knocking off Wisconsin 2 -1 in overtime thanks to a goal from Mike Hamilton.
The first game of the Frozen Four pitted Maine vs conference rival Boston College. Jimmy Howard’s outstanding game (40 saves!) led them to a 2-1 win. I remember how awestruck I was watching him in this game as Maine recorded just 18 shots the entire game. Little did I know that my first sports heartbreak was just around the corner.
The championship game vs Denver started with my first ever “bleep you” ref experience. Bangor native, Derek Damon, scored to give Maine a 1-0 lead in the first period. Damon secured the puck close to the net on a shot from the point and buried it past Denver’s Adam Berkhoel. On the other side of the goal, Mike Hamilton’s skate ever slightly entered the crease area and the goal was waved off. Although theoretically the right call back in 2004, Hamilton’s skate had no impact on the play. To this day I watch this play and get extremely frustrated.
Denver would could go on to score on the power play in the first period. The teams traded chances back and forth for the remainder of the game. No bigger chance would come until the final minutes of the game. After Denver got called for a tripping penalty and a delay of game penalty, Maine had nearly 2 minutes to cash in on a 6 on 3 opportunity to the tie game. Thanks to one great pad save by Denver’s Berkhoel, Maine would come up short.
Nine-year-old me was emotional after such a devastating loss. Between the last opportunity and waved off goal, I could not get over the “what if” scenarios. It took until the Red Sox comeback vs the Yankees later that year for me get to truly get over that moment. I think experiencing that unfortunate moment in sports made the Sox win that much more special for me. I don’t think I would be this invested into sports if I never experienced both sides of the roller coaster that only sports can provide.
As for Maine Hockey, they would go on to reach the Frozen Four in 2006 and in ’07, only to fall short of the National Championship game. Since then they have only been to one NCAA Tournament and that was in 2012 when Maine went one and done. UMaine hockey played an important part of my childhood and unquestionably led me to pursue a career in sports. Seeing UMaine Hockey return the Frozen Four is something that I am dying to see again. My life and the life of many others in this area is better when UMaine hockey is good. Without them, I would not be writing this blog today. I still count on the fact that someday, courtesy of Maine hockey, I will be able to relive some childhood glories.
Matthew Cunha is a producer on The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.