NCAA HOCKEY BEST POSTSEASON MOMENTS COUNTDOWN – #6: The Greatest College Hockey Team To Ever Play

The 1992-1993 University of Maine Black Bears hockey team was the greatest college hockey team ever assembled. But that’s not the only reason why they’re making this list. It was the culmination of a great team, a redemption tour, a preseason underdog, and two classic victories in the Frozen Four, that landed the Black Bears in our #6 slot.

The ‘92-93 Maine hockey team was coming off a disappointing finish to a spectacular regular season. They went 31-3-2, but they lost in the regional semifinals as the #1 overall seed, ending what many thought was their best chance at a title. That team came after a steady rebuilding process by head coach Shawn Walsh, who took over in 1984. Maine was just in their sixth season of D1 hockey, and they had not made the NCAA Tournament yet, having won just eleven games in three seasons prior to Walsh coming to the helm. However, by his third season, the Black Bears were in the NCAA Tournament, and they reached the Frozen Four in the two seasons after that. In 1991, Maine lost in the semifinals for the third time under Walsh, leading to their spectacular season that ended in shockingly early heartbreak, 

Entering the 1992-1993 season, college hockey pundits had muted expectations for the Black Bears, given their hefty graduation losses from the year before. However, Maine’s relatively unknown freshman class turned out to be a star-studded one, headed by Paul Kariya, and twins Peter and Chris Ferraro. Combined with Maine’s all-time leading scorer Jim Montgomery and Cal Ingraham, UMaine featured a historically lethal offense, but they were also dynamic defensively. Defensive stalwart Chris Imes anchored the blue line, but the main source of their success was quite possibly the best goaltending tandem to ever grace a college hockey team. Mike Dunham (25 games) and Garth Snow (23 games) were both future professional players who stood between the pipes for the Black Bears that season. Snow posted a 2.08 Goals-Against Average, while Dunham was not far behind with a 2.65 mark. 

Maine made an early statement in their season opener, throttling Providence 9-3 in the opening game. After tying the Friars, the Black Bears outscored New Brunswick 20-3 in a two-game set, and they were off to the races. That series win sparked a 19-game winning streak that lasted into January, by which point everyone knew about the Black Bears and their star rookies. After tying Clarkson, Maine broke off another nine consecutive wins, bringing their record to 30-0-2. They finally met their match, for at least one game, in Boston University, losing 7 to 6 in overtime. Maine ripped off twelve more wins to finish with a near-perfect 42-1-2 record. 

Leading the Black Bears was their variety of attacking weapons, as Kariya led everyone with 100 points on 25 goals and 75 assists, Ingraham led the team in goals with 46 goals to go with 39 assists, Chris Ferraro put up 51 points and his twin brother put up 50. Montgomery tickled the twine 32 times, pairing his scoring total with 63 assists to bring his career points total to a program-record 301. The Black Bears averaged a whopping 6.5 goals per game, cruising past most opponents with relative ease. Maine then cruised through the Hockey East Tournament as the #1 overall seed, finding the back of the net 26 times in four games and avenging their only loss by beating BU 5-2 in the title game. 

The top overall seed once more in the 12-team field, Maine wasn’t about to crash out of the tournament early in consecutive seasons. They received a bye into the regional semifinals and unleashed the dogs on Minnesota, skating all over the Golden Gophers en route to a 6-2 victory and Frozen Four berth. Maine’s road to redemption was almost thwarted by Michigan there, as the Wolverines stayed right with the Black Bears, keeping their high-powered offense at bay. Tied 3-3, Maine saw their game-winning goal mistakenly disallowed due to what the referees thought was a displaced net, forcing the game into a sudden-death overtime. However, Maine’s offense couldn’t be denied for long, as Lee Saunders slotted in the winner in overtime, sending the Black Bears to their first ever national championship game. 

Maine almost got another rematch with Boston University, but the Terriers lost horribly, 6-1, to Lake Superior State, the #2 overall seed, in the Frozen Four. When Maine scored 28 seconds into the national championship, and again seven minutes in, it appeared the worst was over for the Black Bears and they might be able to hit cruise control. However the experienced Lakers didn’t fold, and they stunned Maine with four consecutive goals, outscoring the Black Bears 3-0 in the second period. The Lakers scored with 1:18 remaining in the second to extend their lead to 4-2, and it looked like one of the greatest seasons in hockey history may end in relative anonymity with a championship loss. However, Montgomery was not going to let his stellar career end in such a fashion, and one, or technically three, more times, he formed a dynamic tandem with Kariya and led the Black Bears to victory. In 4 minutes and 45 seconds, Montgomery scored three times, taking feeds from Kariya on each occasion, to rescue Maine from the brink and push them past the Lakers and into the lead. The winner game with 11:06 to play on the clock, but Maine had substituted Snow for Dunham in goal, and the second half of their stellar goaltending combination made eight saves and stonewalled Lake Superior State in the final period to claim a 5-4 victory for their first national championship.

The Aftermath

Imes, Montgomery, Kariya and Snow were all named to the All-Tournament team, and Kariya was also named the first-ever freshman Hobey Baker Award winner. Montgomery was named a finalist but was not among the final three. With Montgomery, Snow, and Kariya off to the NHL, Maine entered the rebuilding year many thought they were due for the prior season. They went just 3-20-1 in Hockey East play and exited in the first round. However, the Black Bears were too consistent under Walsh to stay down for long, returning to the national championship game in 1995 but losing to Boston University. UMaine would reclaim the trophy in 1999, which remains the last national title they won. Shawn Walsh tragically lost his battle with cancer in 2001, ending his tenure with the Black Bears. He was succeeded by Tim Whitehead, who took Maine to the Frozen Four in four of his first six years, but they lost twice on the biggest stage. Since that surge of success under Whitehead, the Black Bears have made the NCAA Tournament only once since 2007. They were in the Top 15 this year and looked primed to crack the field until the season was cancelled. 

On an indvidual level, the ‘92-93 Maine hockey team was stacked with NHL talent, headlined by Kariya. Kariya was the fourth overall pick in that year’s draft, selected by the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. Over 15 seasons, Kariya played 989 games, averaging a point per game on 402 goals and 587 assists. He played 606 games with the Ducks. Jim Montgomery played 122 games in the NHL, appearing with five different teams. The majority of his time was spent with th St. Louis Blues (67 games). Twins Chris and Peter Ferraro each played from 1996-2002 in the NHL, with Peter Ferraro playing 92 games and Chris playing 74. They played togethering in the ‘97-98 season with the Pittsburgh Penguins. It was Chris’s best season, while Peter had one more solid campaign, playing 48 games with the Bruins the following year. Their dynamic goaltending tandem had plenty of professional success as well, as Snow collected 135 wins between the pipes, and Dunham edged past him with 141 career victories. Snow’s best years came in a three-year stretch with the Philadelphia Flyers, while Dunham spent a majority of his time with the Nashville Predators.