SOUTH PORTLAND – Peter Metcalf had a list of names, contact information and a simple appeal: it’s time to give back, guys. Time to prime the pump again in Shawn Walsh’s memory. Time to come together.
Garth Snow couldn’t say no. Neither could Jimmy Howard, nor Matt Duffy, nor more than a dozen other men who once wore a University of Maine hockey sweater. They brought the type of star power that doesn’t fade to Sable Oaks Golf Course on Monday for a round of golf, bad jokes and good times. That they raised a bit of money for Maine’s hockey program was not beside the point.
That they joined with Maine Coach Tim Whitehead, who is often second-guessed or criticized, was not beside the point, either. Whitehead smiled and posed for photos with each foursome.
“Shawn always said we had to look out for each other on the ice and off,” said Metcalf. If you were part of Maine hockey, Walsh didn’t make exceptions. Neither does Metcalf.
Metcalf was Walsh’s last captain. After Walsh died from cancer at age 46, just before the start of the 2001-02 season, Metcalf carried his teammates through an emotionally wrenching six months into the national championship game. Both Whitehead, picked by Walsh to succeed him, and Metcalf were given roles that had no scripts.
Flash forward to 2010. After an eight-year career in minor league hockey, Metcalf retired. The Massachusetts native settled in the Portland area and decided it was time to give back to Maine hockey. He didn’t have “the pockets,” as he calls the disposable income of other Black Bears who had success in the NHL. “But I could give my time and try to bring the guys who played at Maine together.”
The Shawn Walsh Memorial Golf Tournament has been played for years, but the 20 or so Maine players walking the fairways Monday was a high-water mark, said some. “I’m glad I came back,” said Snow, general manager of the New York Islanders and the goalie when Maine won its first national title in 1993. “We had a very special connection with the Maine community.”
As in the University of Maine community? “No, the whole state. It was different from other places,” said Snow, who grew up in Wrentham, Mass. “You could feel that everyone was behind you.”
Mike Morrison was a Metcalf teammate and shared goaltending duties with Matt Yeats. He was in the net when Maine beat New Hampshire in the semifinals of the 2002 Frozen Four in St. Paul and remembers little of the scene in the locker room afterward. “The adrenaline was still going.”
He does remember two nights later when Maine lost to Minnesota in overtime on a power-play goal with Yeats in net. Yeats was distraught when he skated to the Maine bench. Morrison tried to console him.
Recently, Morrison was in his basement. “I just married and I’m moving,” said Morrison. “I was going through the Maine stuff I have. My Maine jersey is just as important as my Edmonton Oilers jersey. I wouldn’t have one without the other.
“Do I feel a connection with (the State of Maine?) Are you kidding me? Absolutely.”
This might have been Morrison’s second time back to play in the golf tournament, he says, or maybe it was his first. All he knows is that Metcalf contacted him and he couldn’t say no. It was time to rally around a program that is trying to return to the upper echelon of college hockey.
All the golfers were off the course and under a big tent for food, drink, a live auction and a silent auction of hockey memorabilia. Someone pointed out a younger man sitting quietly at a table.
It was Tyler Walsh, 19, the eldest of Shawn Walsh’s three sons. He stood up and I had to remind myself he was about 9 when I last saw him at his father’s wake and funeral.
Open face, polite face. He spent much of his youth growing up in Michigan, where his mother returned with his younger brother, Travis, after his parents divorce. He has enrolled at Maine. He might major in communications, he might choose business. He’ll be a videographer for the hockey team.
“Coming back, it felt like home,” said Walsh.
No one else heard him, but they all would have agreed.
Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: [email protected]