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  • Throwback Thursday: Jimmy Howard – The Maine man

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    Throwback Thursday: Jimmy Howard – The Maine man

    Bob Snow January 1, 2015

    TD Garden has played host to some memorable and historic college hockey games.

    Surely, those include many a Beanpot rivalry played the first two Mondays each February among Harvard, Northeastern, Boston College and Boston University.

    Search the NCAA archives for the most memorable games on the national stage, however, and maybe the April 4, 1998, Boston College-Michigan national championship game comes out as No. 1. That gut-wrenching 3-2 victory by the Wolverine’s in OT paved the way for BC’s annual post-season runs and four titles since.

    The Eagles took out Ohio State in that Frozen Four semifinal, 5-2.

    Pick the single year, however, when the most dynamic series of college games were played on the national stage on Causeway Street, and without a doubt, it’s 2004. That third weekend in March and then April 7 and 9 featured some of the very best goaltending in NCAA and the University of Maine history by standout Jimmy Howard, now the mainstay in 24 square feet of Red Wings’ territory.

    “Is it really 10 years? Wow,” Howard mused last Monday night to Bruins Daily about that memorable month a decade back. A 5-2 loss to the Bruins did not dampen Howard’s still-youthful enthusiasm about his record Black Bear run in Orono. “I’ve always enjoyed playing here. It was always rowdy no matter who we played. Always packed and a lot fun.”

    Packed it was, indeed at TD Garden (formerly known as the Fleet Center), against the University of Massachusetts in that 2004 Hockey East championship game.

    After blanking powerhouse Boston University in the semifinal, 1-0, Howard allowed but one goal against UMass in regulation – and none in the next 3 OT’s en route to a scintillating, 2-1, Maine win. It is considered the best final game in the league’s 30-year history.

    It got better for Maine and Howard in the NCAA Tournament.

    A pretty good wrestler in his tyke days, Howard and Maine then pinned Harvard and Wisconsin before ousting host Boston College in overtime, 2-1, in the Frozen Four semifinal to punch a Black Bear ticket to the title game against Denver.

    “I was able to mature at Maine and learn the game,” he said Monday.

    That final 60 minutes of Howard’s sophomore year came close to a possible third Maine title (1993 and ’99 before losing the 2002 title game in OT). But Adam Berkhoel and company kept the 18,597 mostly Maine supporters on the edge of their seats in the nail-biting, 1-0, final that frantically ended with a Maine 6-on-3 advantage.

    The final 2004 tally on TD Garden ice? An astonishing three goals allowed over four games and 15 periods of play.

    “Yeah, that national championship game was fun and playing in the Frozen Four,” Howard said a few years back. “But the most fun I always had was going into BU and BC and even UNH. Those regular season games on the road for some reason were great and for whatever reason I always wanted BC.”

    Howard’s three years in Maine’s Alfond Arena and those other NCAA barns added to his many Maine records still standing when his three years ended. But in 2003-04, he established the one – and most impressive – NCAA record unlikely to be broken: a 1.19 GAA and .954 save percentage.

    Detroit GM Ken Holland put up his Howard antenna after a solid freshman year, tabbing him at No. 64 overall in the 2003 draft, just a few months before Howard’s historic NCAA season. It would signal the run to heir apparent to Chris Osgood after the Wings paraded Lord Stanley in 2008.

    Howard would leave Maine in 2005 to begin that ascent, one that kept him in the AHL for four years with hefty minor-league contracts to assure Detroit’s long-term commitment.

    After the Wings’ loss in the 2009 Finals, Howard was handed the NHL reins the next season, becoming runner up for rookie-of-the-year in the 2010 Calder Trophy voting.

    Now 30 years old, he inked a 6-year deal for $31.7 million in 2013.

    Howard’s NHL career stats are top-10 among current pipe dwellers: 312 games played into last Monday – 166-91-44 .917 save percentage and a 2.38 GAA. His playoff ledger over 45 games is 21-24 with a 2.53 GAA.

    “Yeah, the [three levels] have fit in nice,” Howard said Monday night. “I didn’t really want to spend four years in the [AHL] but that’s the way it happened and it’s worked out for the best.

    “I picked Maine because it felt like home. It really did.”

    Ditto for Howard in Detroit.

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