The University of Maine men’s hockey team will graduate seven seniors who have won more than 66 percent of their games despite losing their head coach, Shawn Walsh, due to complications from kidney cancer on Sept. 24, 2001.
Marty Kariya, Gray Shaneberger, Lucas Lawson, Cliff Loya, Tommy Reimann, Robert Liscak, and Chris Heisten were asked to discuss a variety of topics in a recent question-and-answer session.
You have made the NCAA Tournament all three years, you’ve won a Hockey East Tournament title, you have a 14-5 playoff record, you’ve been in two Frozen Fours, and you’ve played in an NCAA championship game. What have been the keys to your success?
Chris Heisten: Just jelling, coming together at the end. All we have up here is each other. It seems we always play better in February and March on into April. So I think it’s just coming together as a team and having the experience the guys left behind for us, guys like [Peter] Metcalf, [Cory] Larose, Brendan Walsh, A.J. Begg, and Doug Janik. They passed on the tradition to us.
Cliff Loya: It’s just the consistency of the program … recruiting quality kids that fit into the system. Every year for the last 20 years, Maine’s been competing for national championships. So, obviously, they’re doing something right. I think it just speaks for the consistency of the program and the coaching staff knowing what kids to bring up here.
You have been through a lot in your careers, including the death of coach Walsh. How has it impacted you?
Robert Liscak: It made us stronger and more prepared for any situation that occurs, whether in real life or in hockey.
You guys are a microcosm of the program. You are from all across the globe. Do you feel cultural diversity has been an advantage?
Gray Shaneberger: I think it’s important. Besides playing hockey, you meet kids from all over the country. You get to be friends with them. It’s a great learning experience.
What do you consider the highlight of your career so far?
Tommy Reimann: Going 30 games without scoring.
CH: Hoping it comes at the end of our senior year with a national championship. The guys right here, we’re sitting with, we’ve all done a lot together. We’re all going to graduate here. I feel this has been a successful class for us. Coming every day has been like a highlight. Something new happens every day. So it’s been a great four years.
Lucas Lawson: Definitely making it to the Frozen Four last year with all we had to go through during the season. It’s a really good lesson to learn. You have to battle through adversity. Bad things happen in life and you have to keep going and pressing forward. You learn lessons in college. I’ve learned a lot of lessons here. Just what we’ve been through, what we’ve accomplished and, hopefully, what we’re about to accomplish this year.
Coach Tim Whitehead said this is an extremely close-knit team. But doesn’t every coach of a successful team say that?
TR: There is something [special] up here. Like Chris was saying earlier about all we have up here is each other.
RL: There aren’t too many people from Maine [in the program]. We have three kids from Maine this year and that’s the most we’ve ever had in our four years here. Everybody hangs out with the hockey players. It’s a small group of guys. You don’t really get to meet that many people.
Give me your idea of a perfect 24 hours. Money is no object.
Martin Kariya: You’d have to give me a few minutes to choose a golf course. And I’d probably pick Tiger Woods and Greg Norman. I’d play all day with them.
CL: I’m not really much of a gambler. I’m afraid I’d lose all my money. So I’d probably go down to Vegas or Atlantic City and have a good time. Do some bad stuff, probably.
TR: I’m with Cliffy. He’s not a gambler, but I’m a gambler, so I’d pack up and go to Vegas and play some golf in the morning and hit the craps table for a good 15-20 hours if money is no object. I’d lose or come home rich.
RL: I’d bring my parents over here. [Let them] see how it is. Hang out with them and take them around probably. Wherever they would want to go.
GS: I’d probably go overseas. I’d like to go to Budapest. I was only three hours away from it before and that’s where really want to go and immerse myself in their culture.
CH: I’d go to Normandy, France. Go to Omaha Beach and see where it all happened: World War II, with my family.
LL: That’s a tough question. I’ve never really thought about it. Probably, a round of golf in the morning with my buddies. Going out in the river with my family, listening to some George Thorogood, and in the afternoon, driving a Winston Cup car or just watching a race, going to it live. I’ve been to a couple live in Michigan, pretty special things.
How about some thoughts about this season. Did you expect this kind of season with young goaltending and a young defense?
GS: Just from last year, seeing Frankie [Doyle] play in practice, you could tell he was going to be a good goaltender. Maybe how well we started off was a surprise to some people. We’ve got two great goaltenders [Doyle and Jimmy Howard]. They were the driving force behind a lot of the early success and that’s only going to help us in the long run.
If you were named Commissioner of Hockey East, what would you do to improve the league?
MK: I don’t think you want to tape this.
CL: Maybe the consistency of the officiating – probably make it a little better. Marty can attest to that a little bit. Something with the officiating. There’s a lot of clutching and grabbing and spearing. Not even clutching and grabbing, but a lot of spearing and stickwork and things like that. You throw a check and somebody punches you in the face, things like that. Going a little further, if you make everyone wear half-shields [instead of full-face shields], maybe that would eliminate all that stuff even though that would probably never happen.
CH: There would definitely be fighting. That would be one. And I think the other one would be – as players you always got to answer to the public and the media about how you played. I’d make the officiating do the same thing for their performance in the game.
RL: I would definitely put the half-shields on. I think that would teach a lot more kids, especially from prep school, to learn to respect the other player. Not to do certain things a lot of people do around here.
TR: Touch icing, for sure. Makes them work a little harder.
If could do something to improve the program or the facilities, what would it be?
RL: Now we have a month left, nothing.
GS: The facilities we have up here are characteristic of the type of team we are. We don’t have the best of everything, but we’re up here and all we do is focus on hockey. I think the set-up now is great because if you spoil kids too much with hot tubs [and things like that], that can be a problem.
If you had to choose a song to play when you come on to the ice for the start of the game, except “The Stein Song,” what would it be?
CH: Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 or 7.
CH: Highway to Danger Zone, Top Gun sound track.
CH: I don’t think [Todd] Jackson would allow us to change the warmup tapes. He has final say in everything. You’ve got to talk to Todd about that. He’s some music genius, I guess.
GS: There’s an ’80s song. “Whip It.” That would be a good one.
LL: Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “By the Way.”
Thoughts about the upcoming playoffs?
CH: A national title is obviously our goal. But we don’t want to look that far ahead. You always hear that boring clich? “Take one game at a time.” But right now we just want to get better as a team and keep on improving and learning every day so when it comes down to March and April, we are playing our best.
Do you guys think you’ll all stay in touch after you graduate?
CH: I’m sure we’ll never see Marty again.
CH: I think, hopefully, we’ll still be playing pro somewhere. We’ll be able to keep in touch when we play each other.
Your departures will leave a significant void. Will this program stay where you have kept it, right at the top?
MK: The key has always been Grant [assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Grant Standbrook]. Certainly coach Walsh is a huge part, he really started it. I forgot who was saying it about the players: You’re only as good as the players can get you. At this level, you need players that are, first of all, good when they come in, but they also have a lot of room to improve. If you look at us as a group here, when we were freshmen, we were good players and we contributed, but we weren’t the type of players that we are now. Look at how much we’ve improved individually. And that’s what makes the program so good. And as long as Grant is here and we have good recruiting and coaching, any program will flourish, I think.
What kind of job has coach Whitehead done and will he continue to do so?
CL: He’s done a great job, actually. Dealing with, obviously last year, the emotion of losing coach Walsh and coming out of his shadow sort of deal and leading us to the national championship game. And then this year, this has been the best year that we’ve had in my four years and probably in a little while. So I think he’s done a tremendous job, and I’m sure he’ll do a tremendous job in the future.