Another Sordid Episode
It isn't easy being Maine. The Black Bears' athletic program has operated under dark clouds since a two-year NCAA investigation began 13 months after the Maine hockey team won the 1993 national title. The probe uncovered 13 recruiting and six eligibility violations in a number of sports, but it especially rocked the hockey program: The Black Bears were forbidden to play in the '96 and '97 NCAA playoffs, and lost six scholarships over two years; coach Shawn Walsh was suspended for a year; and five regulars, including two All-Americas, bolted Maine.
Nevertheless, the Black Bears kept winning, going 72-25-11 from '94-95 to '96-97. With the playoff ban lifted, Walsh back in charge and junior captain Steve Kariya (brother of Mighty Ducks leading man Paul) on the verge of stardom, Maine seemed poised this season to regain some of its lost luster. Instead the Black Bears, who were 13-13-3 and in sixth place in Hockey East through last weekend, have endured a season of inconsistent play, blowout losses and one horrible phone call.
In December three white players—goalie Bryan Masotta, defenseman Shawn Mansoff and center Matt Oliver—were charged with leaving a message replete with racial slurs on the answering machine of a black Maine football player. Masotta pleaded no contest to charges of criminal threatening and was fined $1,000. Charges against Mansoff and Oliver were dropped and both deny involvement. All three players, however, face federal civil rights charges.
The players were also suspended from Maine for one year, and the school directed counselors to meet with the hockey and football teams to discuss race relations. "That phone call was awful," says athletic director Sue Tyler. "As a group we needed to work things out, to heal."
The hockey program's healing isn't complete: In addition to having to come to grips with the implications of the racial incident, the Black Bears won't have a full complement of scholarships available until next season. "We're still a great program with a great tradition," says Kariya. "I like to think the bad times have finally passed."