LEWISTON — Maybe it wasn’t quite as complex as the journey home by Steve Martin and John Candy in the comedy classic “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,’’ but Keith Brown and Pete Vercauteren had a heck of a time getting here from Wisconsin.
“Two cars, two planes,’’ said Brown. Drive from Green Bay to Chicago, fly to LaGuardia, then to Portland and a rental car.
All in all it was about a 12-hour trip, but one they would gladly make again. Brown and Vercauteren are fans of the St. Norbert College men’s hockey team. The Green Knights played in the first of Friday’s NCAA Division III semifinals at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee and they were in the back row of the bleachers with good friend Bill Tochterman, who flew to Albany, then drove six hours to Lewiston.
“They’ve been to nine Frozen Fours,’’ said Brown. “So have we.’’
They saw the Green Knights advance to Saturday night’s final, beating SUNY-Geneseo, 6-2.
Call this a smaller version of March Madness. And while the Colisee wasn’t full – about 2,200 fans came for the two games – it provided a great atmosphere.
Students from Geneseo, N.Y., on spring break, made the five-plus hour drive to Maine to tailgate in the parking lot and cheer on their team. And maybe, said one group, stop in Freeport for a look at that L.L. Bean store they heard about.
They didn’t mind the cold or the snow on the ground.
“You have more snow on the ground here than we have,’’ said Diane Jacobson, the grandmother of St. Norbert goalie David Jacobson. “But this is a vacation for us.’’
The games meant a little more than that to the players on the four teams. They meant something to a large group of Maine fans.
SUNY-Geneseo is the only school to have any Mainers on its roster: freshman forward Connor Anthoine of Lewiston and freshman defenseman Matt Lee of Waterville.
They and their teammates were welcomed with goody bags put together by their mothers – Sandra Anthoine and Maureen Lee – that included some of their favorite Maine treats. Among them, chocolate lobster lollipops, whoopie pies from Lee’s favorite shop in Freeport, Poland Spring bottled water and Maine apples.
“The guys loved it,’’ said Anthoine, who had one shot on goal in Geneseo’s loss.
Lee is recovering from a broken leg and didn’t play, watching with his teammates, but he had at least 16 family and friends in the stands. Anthoine had a similarly sized group.
“This is probably the most people I know that I’ve played in front of in a long time,’’ said Anthoine, who never played high school hockey in Maine, instead opting to go the junior hockey route.
“It was a blast being able to come home and play,’’ said Anthoine. “Honestly it was surreal at first. But once I got settled in after warmups I felt pretty good about being home again.’’
Karen Sennett, Lee’s godmother, said that she wouldn’t have missed this game, even though Lee wouldn’t be playing.
“We’re here to cheer for our Maine boys,’’ she said.
“This was his dream,’’ said Maureen Lee. “He always wanted to play college hockey. Unfortunately he got injured, but he’s still part of the team and he loves this team. So we’re very excited to be here.’’
The folks who brought the national championships here – Bowdoin College and the Maine Sports Commission – are hoping for a bigger crowd for Saturday night’s final.
Jim Cain, the general manager of the Colisee, predicted earlier in the week that the championship game would be a sellout. Even if it isn’t, he feels this city and his arena have taken a big step.
“It’s a national championship and not everyone gets them,’’ he said. “We think this is a hugely important event for the community. It shows, first of all, our ability to host an event like this. And it’s good for people who like hockey to see this level of play.’’
As Vercauteren said, “If the local people want to watch great hockey, this is the weekend to do it.’’
Kerry Hoey, the executive director of the Maine Sports Commission, said the goal was to positively impact Lewiston and Maine. She thinks it’s already achieved that goal.
“Hosting a national championship will help get similar events of size and scope,’’ she said.
Last year Hoey went to Lake Placid, N.Y., to see how that host committee handled the Division III Frozen Four and came away with some ideas.
She didn’t feel the local community was involved enough. That’s not a problem here, with local businesses and the Chamber of Commerce stepping up.
Asked why the tournament wasn’t held at the larger Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland, Hoey said the Colisee is the perfect size (just under 3,700) for a Division III national tournament. “It feels better and fit more with the Colisee,’’ she said.
The players would agree.
With a large gathering behind their bench, the St. Norbert players felt pretty comfortable.
“We have a great following,’’ said David Jacobson, the goalie. “It was good to hear them in the stands.’’
Mike Lowe can be reached at 791-6422 or at: