The Maine Man
Led by goalie Alfie Michaud, the Black Bears bagged the NCAA title
At each stoppage during the NCAA championship game last Saturday between Maine and New Hampshire at the Pond in Anaheim, Alfie Michaud, the Black Bears' goalie, skated the width of the ice, sideboard to sideboard. His pace was as methodical as a pendulum until it was time for play to resume. "I talked to myself and reminded myself to concentrate on the exact second at hand," said Michaud after beating the Wildcats 3-2 in overtime. "That's why I never got too caught up in the excitement of the game. I just thought, One second at a time."
By night's end Michaud had survived 4,250 seconds of hockey and 48 New Hampshire shots to lead Maine to its second national championship in this decade. Left wing Marcus Gustafsson's goal with 10:50 gone in the extra session won the game, but there never would have been an overtime had it not been for the heroic Michaud, who was voted the Frozen Four's most outstanding player. Including the 35 saves he made in Maine's 2-1 semifinal win over Boston College last Thursday, Michaud had a .964 save percentage in the two games, fourth-best in the 52-year-history of the final four. "He was our MVP all year," says Black Bears wing Steve Kariya, little brother of Paul, the star wing of the Mighty Ducks. "He's quiet, but he gives us confidence."
As Maine went 31-6-4 this year, Michaud did more for the Black Bears than his nation-leading 28 wins imply. Along with Kariya, his equally even-keeled housemate, Michaud imparted to his teammates the calmness they needed to weather the valleys before last Saturday's peak. Maine came into this season still haunted by the recruiting violations that led to NCAA sanctions barring it from the postseason in 1996 and '97. Then, on Feb. 23, the Black Bears were rocked by the death of 24-year-old equipment manager Rich Britt, who was killed in a car accident. They went 2-2 in their remaining regular-season games, but when the tournament started—to honor Britt they kept a jersey with the number 99, symbolizing the year he died, on the bench at every game—their focus on the title was sharp.
"During the regionals Ohio State and Clarkson were screaming before the games," says Maine coach Shawn Walsh. "We just went quietly onto the ice. That comes from guys like Alfie and Steve. I lean on them to set the tone."
Even levelheaded goalies have eccentricities, and throughout the final Michaud repeatedly poured the contents of his water bottle down the nape of his neck No wonder, then, that New Hampshire's onslaughts rolled off him like water off a duck's back. "The beginning of the game is like a blur," Michaud said when asked about his play in the early going. "That was a lot of seconds ago."
The Crease Rule
Keep Out Means Keep Out!
All the carping about the injustice of the NHL's crease rule must stop. The sensible, clear-cut regulation says that for a goal to count, an offensive player may not enter the crease before the puck gets there. Only when a referee judges that the offensive player was forced into or held in the crease is an exception made.
The rule, enforced by on-ice officials with the aid of video replay, ensures that a goalie has sufficient room to make a save, but it's blind to whether the offending player actually interfered with the play. "Sometimes the puck goes in and the camera shows that a guy on the other side of the play had his skate in the crease," says Rangers general manager Neil Smith. "Even though he didn't affect the play, you lose a goal."
Such concerns inspired the league last summer to narrow the crease by four feet, to eight feet across, while retaining its old depth, which arcs out six feet from the goal line. As recently as February, NHL general managers were pleased enough with the new width that they voted, by a two-thirds majority, to keep the rule as is. Then as the season moved into the home stretch, frustration over lost goals led many to damn the rule. "I voted to keep it," says Capitals general manager George McPhee, "but within two weeks I'd seen four goals taken away, and I'd changed my mind."