ALBANY, N.Y. — They waited on Saturday while Michigan and Colgate battled into overtime for the right to face them. One day later, their well-laid plans began with a wakeup call at seven in the morning, leading up to an intended 3:30 afternoon game against the Wolverines.
The Maine Black Bears were looking to become the first team since Boston University in 1972 to win back-to-back national championships.
Walsh had laid the schedule out carefully.
7:00 a.m. Wakeup calls
7:15 a.m. Breakfast in hotel
7:45 a.m. Walk to rink
8:30 a.m. Practice
10:00 a.m. Return to hotel
11:00 a.m. Pre-game dinner in hotel
1:30 p.m. Depart to rink
2:00 p.m. Team meeting
3:30 p.m. NCAA East Regional Final
7:00 p.m. Depart Albany
3:00 a.m. Arrive Alfond Arena
However, the meticulously-laid plans, designed with the precision of a Swiss watch, turned into Swiss cheese when the early BU – St. Lawrence game set an NCAA record for length, going into four overtimes.
“They’re hungry now,” said one inactive Maine player during an overtime intermission. “They’re going to be starved by the third period.”
Walsh had planned the 11 a.m. meal with the memory of Maine’s 1995 triple-overtime game against Michigan still fresh in his mind.
“I wanted to get two meals into them just in case,” he said. “If you look at the history books, typically something wacky happens when Maine plays Michigan in a tournament.”
But as the early game turned into a marathon, even Walsh’s hedge against overtime evaporated. The team sent out for bagels and fruit. Powerbars became a snack while the Black Bears waited and waited.
And then waited some more.
As St. Lawrence scored its quadruple-overtime winner, some players were finally biting into something more substantial.
“Actually,” said Ben Guite after the game with a grin, “I feel the sandwich I ate about five minutes before the game coming out right now.”
More off-putting than the physical hunger, though, was the problem of attaining the proper mental outlook as the 3:30 game became 4:30 and then 5:30 and then 6:30 and finally a few minutes after 7:00.
“We just said, hey, this is nothing,” said Walsh. “We’re used to adversity. When you play in Orono, you’re used to long trips. You don’t get a lot of freebies. You just grind it out.
“A little adversity never hurt our guys. So we tried to turn it into a positive.”
Rather than trying to maintain a pre-game face for three and a half hours longer than usual, the Black Bears relaxed and told a few jokes.
“You don’t want to stay too uptight,” said Guite. “If you keep thinking and thinking and thinking about what you have to do, you just start thinking all crooked. We have a really young team, so we tried to stay relaxed.
“Most of the guys just sat down and were chatting or watching the game. It was just a relaxed atmosphere waiting. There’s not much you can do. You’ve got to go with what you have.”
Eventually, the casual relaxation ended.
“We re-reviewed the game plan,” said Walsh. “Doug Janik asked me to go over it again. So we kind of had a second meeting to bring it back into focus.”
The contest finally started at 7:05, a mere three and a half hours late. Maine trailed, 1-0, going into the third period and 2-1 with 13 minutes remaining. But the Black Bears took control soon after and won going away, 5-2.
The back-to-back dream was still alive.
“We’re three periods closer to a legacy,” said Walsh. “We’ve got six periods to go and it’s the same as tonight. If we don’t play three good periods, then it’ll be over. If we do, then we’ve got a chance to cut it to three periods.”
Maine’s chances took a broadside, however, when with little more than a minute left in the game referee Mike Schmidt assessed leading Black Bear scorer Cory Larose a game disqualification for a butt-end, putting him out of the semifinal game against North Dakota on Apr. 6. Ironically, Larose had been honored with Hockey East’s Len Ceglarski Sportsmanship Award just weeks earlier.
“We’ve already talked about it,” said Walsh. “One player does not make the Maine team. The Maine team is balance and depth. We’ll play the next game without him.
“He’s won some games for us. It’s our job to win that game so he gets to play in the final.”
Hopes of a back-to-back legacy were still alive.
It was worth the wait.