ORONO – Lynne Walsh had an open invitation to check out the new additions at the Alfond Arena but waited until Sunday afternoon, the day the Shawn Walsh Hockey Center was dedicated to her late husband.
It was well worth the wait for her.
Shawn Walsh, the former University of Maine hockey coach who guided the Bears to 11 NCAA Tournament appearances, seven Frozen Four berths and two NCAA championships, died of complications from kidney cancer on Sept. 24, 2001.
“They had been asking me to come see it but I wanted to wait until the dedication. I had some expectations built up, too,” said Lynne Walsh.
“It’s awesome. It’s exactly what we need here,” she added.
Interim athletic director Blake James, who monitored the ceremony in which Lynne Walsh and philanthropist Harold Alfond cut the ribbon, said Alfond Arena “is our own Fenway Park” and that it was important to keep playing surface and seating plan intact while upgrading the rest of the facility.
Alfond called Shawn Walsh a “great friend” and said “I’m sure he’s watching us now” and that he would have been proud of the facility.
The Maine alumni hockey weekends are held every other year and include a variety of activities including an alumni game and a golf tournament the following day.
The golf tournament will be held today at the Penobscot Valley Country Club in Orono. Registration begins at 7 a.m. with a shotgun start at 8. Dinner and an auction will follow the tourney.
Former Bear winger and co-captain Brendan Walsh, who was recently named an assistant coach at Northeastern University, called the renovations at Alfond Arena “unbelievable, fantastic, amazing.
“Shawn definitely would be proud of this. It was definitely part of his vision, his idea what this facility could be,” said Walsh.
The additions include new locker rooms for the men’s and women’s hockey teams, a weight room, training room, equipment room, players lounge, coaches offices and a Hall of Fame Room.
The Hall of Fame Room and concessions stands will be completed in the fall.
“I couldn’t recognize the place,” said Todd Jackson, who captained the team two years ago and will be in his second year in the Detroit Red Wings organization this fall. “You have to keep up with the competition and this is definitely a step in the right direction.”
“This will make it a lot easier for the coaches to recruit now. They’ll be able to bang heads with Boston University and Boston College [for elite recruits]. Players they wouldn’t have been able to get [previously], now they’ll have a really good shot to get them,” said Ray Jacques, who played at Maine from 1981-85. “If I were a player now, I’d really want to come here.”
“I got lost a couple of times. I didn’t know where to go,” said Marcus Gustafsson, whose overtime goal gave Maine a 3-2 win over New Hampshire in the 1999 NCAA championship game. “This will help build the program. It will be a factor for recruits.”
However, like several other players, Gustafsson was glad Alfond Arena’s ice surface and seating arrangement weren’t changed.
“You don’t want a new arena here. [The current arena setup] is why people come here. It’s soldout every game and people are right on top of you,” said Gustafsson, who lives and works in New Orleans.
“This is Maine hockey,” added Gustafsson who noted that when he played in the East Coast Hockey League for New Orleans, they switched from a 3,500-seat arena to a 17,000-seat arena and it lost its ambiance.
“The fans liked the older [3,500-seat] arena better,” said Gustafsson.
Veteran NHL goalie and former Bear Garth Snow concurred.
“Alfond Arena is unique. It’s one of a kind,” said Snow.
Ben Guite, who played on the 1999 NCAA title team and played for the AHL’s Providence Bruins this past season, said he tells Maine’s current players that “unless you go to the NHL right out of college, you won’t get treated any better than this. You’ve got a beautiful locker room and great facilities.”
Maine head coach Tim Whitehead thanked Alfond and all the donors, particularly the former players.
“The players really stepped up to the plate,” said Whitehead.
“I wish we had this when we were here,” said Jon Leach, a member of Maine’s first four teams (1977-81). “We would have been bigger and stronger and we would have won more games.”
Earlier in the day, in the alumni game, Frank Doyle made 34 saves, including the first 22 shots he faced, Kent Salfi had a hat trick and Snow, playing as a defenseman, picked up four assists to lead the Blue team to a 7-5 win over the White team.
Mario Thyer had two goals for the winners with Guite and Jeff Libby getting the others.
Mike Schutte, Prestin Ryan, John Ronan, Eric Turgeon and Walsh scored for the White team.
Eighty-year-old Dick Kelson, who played on Maine’s club hockey team, had an assist.
Making his alumni game debut was 19-year-old Maxime Aubut, son of the late Andre Aubut, the former Bear All-American defenseman.
The younger Aubut plays in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.