Inside Hockey

April 11, 1999

THE MAINE MAN
Led by goalie Alfie Michaud, the Black Bears bagged the NCAA title

At each stoppage during the NCAA championship game last Saturday
between Maine and New Hampshire at the Pond in Anaheim, Alfie
Michaud, the Black Bears' goalie, skated the width of the ice,
sideboard to sideboard. His pace was as methodical as a pendulum
until it was time for play to resume. "I talked to myself and
reminded myself to concentrate on the exact second at hand,"
said Michaud after beating the Wildcats 3-2 in overtime. "That's
why I never got too caught up in the excitement of the game. I
just thought, One second at a time."

By night's end Michaud had survived 4,250 seconds of hockey and
48 New Hampshire shots to lead Maine to its second national
championship in this decade. Left wing Marcus Gustafsson's goal
with 10:50 gone in the extra session won the game, but there
never would have been an overtime had it not been for the heroic
Michaud, who was voted the Frozen Four's most outstanding
player. Including the 35 saves he made in Maine's 2-1 semifinal
win over Boston College last Thursday, Michaud had a .964 save
percentage in the two games, fourth-best in the 52-year-history
of the final four. "He was our MVP all year," says Black Bears
wing Steve Kariya, little brother of Paul, the star wing of the
Mighty Ducks. "He's quiet, but he gives us confidence."

As Maine went 31-6-4 this year, Michaud did more for the Black
Bears than his nation-leading 28 wins imply. Along with Kariya,
his equally even-keeled housemate, Michaud imparted to his
teammates the calmness they needed to weather the valleys before
last Saturday's peak. Maine came into this season still haunted
by the recruiting violations that led to NCAA sanctions barring
it from the postseason in 1996 and '97. Then, on Feb. 23, the
Black Bears were rocked by the death of 24-year-old equipment
manager Rich Britt, who was killed in a car accident. They went
2-2 in their remaining regular-season games, but when the
tournament started--to honor Britt they kept a jersey with the
number 99, symbolizing the year he died, on the bench at every
game--their focus on the title was sharp.

"During the regionals Ohio State and Clarkson were screaming
before the games," says Maine coach Shawn Walsh. "We just went
quietly onto the ice. That comes from guys like Alfie and Steve.
I lean on them to set the tone."

Even levelheaded goalies have eccentricities, and throughout the
final Michaud repeatedly poured the contents of his water bottle
down the nape of his neck. No wonder, then, that New Hampshire's
onslaughts rolled off him like water off a duck's back. "The
beginning of the game is like a blur," Michaud said when asked
about his play in the early going. "That was a lot of seconds
ago."

The Crease Rule
KEEP OUT MEANS KEEP OUT!

All the carping about the injustice of the NHL's crease rule
must stop. The sensible, clear-cut regulation says that for a
goal to count, an offensive player may not enter the crease
before the puck gets there. Only when a referee judges that the
offensive player was forced into or held in the crease is an
exception made.

The rule, enforced by on-ice officials with the aid of video
replay, ensures that a goalie has sufficient room to make a
save, but it's blind to whether the offending player actually
interfered with the play. "Sometimes the puck goes in and the
camera shows that a guy on the other side of the play had his
skate in the crease," says Rangers general manager Neil Smith.
"Even though he didn't affect the play, you lose a goal."

Such concerns inspired the league last summer to narrow the
crease by four feet, to eight feet across, while retaining its
old depth, which arcs out six feet from the goal line. As
recently as February, NHL general managers were pleased enough
with the new width that they voted, by a two-thirds majority, to
keep the rule as is. Then as the season moved into the home
stretch, frustration over lost goals led many to damn the rule.
"I voted to keep it," says Capitals general manager George
McPhee, "but within two weeks I'd seen four goals taken away,
and I'd changed my mind."

The real culprits are the players who trespass. Through Sunday
123 goals had been disallowed for crease violations this
season--about one in every nine games--but if skaters would simply
stay out of the forbidden area, there wouldn't be trouble.
Players may have been "taught their entire careers to go to the
net," as Red Wings center Steve Yzerman says, but they can also
stop on a dime. Crease offenders need to give up the irrelevant
whine that they only had a toe over the line. It makes as much
sense as pleading, I only had two fingers in the cookie jar.

The NHL will probably tinker with the rule this summer but is
unlikely to go to a policy in which a referee would only
disallow a goal when an offensive player in the crease clearly
interfered with the goalie. Many NHL types fear that would turn
the blue crease into a gray area. Our modest proposal, which has
met with the informal approval of several general managers, is
to make the crease even smaller. We say narrow it by another six
inches on each side and take six inches off the arc. That way if
a player is in the crease, he's definitely affecting the play.

In the meantime, when the cold eye of the video camera catches a
crease violator and a goal is lost, general managers and players
must remember that they have no one to blame but themselves.

Kevin Haller
AGITATOR TO THE STARS

Mighty Ducks defenseman Kevin Haller isn't a well-known player
among casual hockey fans. Now with his fifth team in eight
seasons, the 28-year-old Haller averages four goals a year and
plays a chippy but undynamic style. He also has running feuds
going with a couple of guys even your grandmother may have heard
of: Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier.

To have the courage to tangle regularly with the bull-like
Messier is one thing; to be willing to breach NHL etiquette and
rough up the Great One is another. In Anaheim's 4-1 win over the
Rangers last Friday, Haller drew a two-minute interference
penalty for leveling Gretzky with a check and then rubbing a
glove in his face. The usually unflappable Great One was
penalized four minutes for attempting to spear Haller in
retaliation.

Last season a frustrated Gretzky took a wild punch at Haller (and
missed) during another confrontation. "He was my idol as a kid,"
says Haller, who grew up in Alberta when Gretzky was an Oiler.
"I'd love to get a stick from him, but I don't think there's much
chance of that."

COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO COLOR PHOTO: LOU CAPOZZOLA COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK

BUST AND BARGAIN

[BUST]

G OLAF KOLZIG
Capitals
1998-99 salary: $2.5 million

Kolzig's play has fallen off from his breakthrough season in
'97-98, and his poor .896 save percentage at week's end was a
big reason Washington won't qualify for the playoffs.

[BARGAIN]

G BYRON DAFOE
Bruins
1998-99 salary: $850,000

Dafoe has built upon his breakthrough season in '97-98, and his
excellent .926 save percentage was a big reason Boston was
likely to qualify for the playoffs.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)