At first glance, the year-old group photo looked like countless others. Eleven men on hockey ice surrounding a large championship trophy. Broad smiles and grins.
Your eyes flick to the first face on the left. The hockey man with the familiar wry look. The one with the oldest face but standing erect when everyone else is slouched over the Clark Cup, which goes to the Tier 1 junior team that wins the USHL championship.
The faces in the photo aren’t identified but if you’re a University of Maine fan you’d recognize two: The senior citizen is Grant Standbrook and the joyous one in the middle is Jimmy Montgomery, minus the hair he had as Maine’s captain in 1993.
What, you thought Standbrook had retired to his winter home in Florida? So he’s 74 years old. So what? Montgomery, head coach of the Dubuque Fighting Saints, lured Standbrook to Iowa last year to help him whenever it fit his schedule. Gave Standbrook a title, too. Goaltender consultant, which sounds a bit formal, considering he’s been called the Zen Master or Yoda to Shawn Walsh’s Luke Skywalker or Darth Vader, depending if you were a fan of the late Maine head coach or not.
As Maine prepares to play Minnesota-Duluth in the NCAA hockey regionals in Worcester, Mass, take a moment to remember the architect of 10 Maine teams that advanced to the Frozen Four, winning national titles in 1993 and 1999.
Standbrook was the man with the gift of finding and getting hockey players who would flourish under Walsh’s sometimes mercurial way of pushing their hot buttons to motivate. He found players that took Tim Whitehead-coached Maine teams to the Frozen Four four times, the last time in 2007.
Standbrook was Walsh’s associate and one of his best friends. He was the good cop to Walsh’s bad cop. They were a team like few others in college hockey.
After Walsh died from cancer in 2001, Standbrook stayed for another five or six years assisting Whitehead, the man who became Maine’s next head coach.
Then he was done, leaving behind a coaching career at Maine that spanned nearly 20 years. He’s been gone long enough that his fingerprints on the program are harder to find. But not the memories left behind.
At the team hotel in Cambridge, Mass., last weekend during the Hockey East tournament, longtime Maine fans sat in the lobby and told Standbrook stories. Like back in the early 1990s when Walsh had switched goalies during the middle of a period at the old Boston Garden, sending Garth Snow in to replace Mike Dunham.
Afterward, Standbrook played the fixer, huddling with Dunham’s mother and father separately, assuring them that Walsh had confidence in their son.
Later, of course, Walsh made the same switch with much higher stakes. Snow went in for Dunham to start the third period of the 1993 national championship game. Maine trailed, 4-2.
Montgomery then scored three straight goals, all assisted by Paul Kariya. Maine beat Lake Superior State. It was Montgomery who called his old coach last year to help stiffen the Fighting Saints’ defense. Standbrook is still on call.
A couple of years after the 1993 championship, Standbrook recruited goalie Alfie Michaud off a reservation in Manitoba. As the story goes, Michaud believed the medicine man had put a spell on him and his play suffered. Standbrook fixed things, supposedly with a visit. With Michaud in goal, Maine won the 1999 national championship.
He found forward Tom Reimann, a gifted skater with poor grades. While other schools took a pass, Standbrook discovered Reimann had a learning disability. Standbrook overcame a learning disability. Reimann played on the Maine team that lost to Minnesota in the Frozen Four final some six months after Walsh died.
Standbrook found Dustin Penner, an unheralded big forward who was playing at Minot State University-Bottineau in North Dakota.
Standbrook didn’t know Penner existed until seeing him at a summer tournament. Penner, according to the story Standbrook loves to tell, didn’t know the University of Maine had a hockey team.
Penner scored the winning goal for Maine in the semifinals of the 2004 Frozen Four in Boston. He hoisted the Stanley Cup a few years later, playing for Anaheim.
Penner doesn’t shy away from what he believes to be a hard truth: If Standbrook hadn’t discovered him, he’d be pumping gas in his hometown of Winkler, Manitoba.
In 2002, the Maine Campus newspaper published an April Fool’s story. Standbrook got promises from Paul, Steve and Martin Kariya that he’d get first crack at recruiting their children to play hockey.
Standbrook still follows the Black Bears.
As another story was told, Standbrook had a problem picking up a game feed at his home in Naples, Fla., during the Merrimack-Maine Hockey East quarterfinals two weekends ago. Standbrook called someone back north who was watching the game and got the details relayed to him over the phone in real time.
I called him Thursday afternoon. He was rushed. He and his wife, Joy, were moving. Stuff was in his car for a trip across town, the car was running and Joy was waiting. Call me back, he said. They must have been moving more things. We didn’t get the chance Thursday night to play catch-up.
He’s 74. His life in hockey may have slowed, but it hasn’t stopped.
Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: