This edition is about the giant we lost 15 years ago this week. I was fortunate enough to be around him at the height of his success in the early 90s. In two seasons we were 73-5-4, won a pair of Hockey East titles and our first national championship.
There are stories I could tell to make Maine fans think he was the devil and others that would make the heart of the most ardent BU supporter melt. He was neither demon or saint. He was a man. Like any man he had success and failures; because of the notoriety of his position both were magnified.
My favorite memory is from early in my freshman year between periods of a Friday night game. I've changed a few details to keep some measure of anonymity.
I was stationed in the hallway outside the locker room. I would receive a signal when the zamboni had two laps left and would signal Shawn. Suddenly the door opened and there he was, with a player in tow. The kid had had a lousy week of practice and was having a rough game. I realized what was coming and wanted to get out, but the near door was blocked and the far door was simply too far away. Instead I tried to melt into the wall and not make a sound.
Shawn rounded on the kid and we both braced ourselves for the verbal assault that was about to be unleashed. Instead Shawn put his hand on the kid's shoulder and asked what was wrong. We were both taken aback. "You're better than this. We brought you here for a reason." There was something in how he said it. The timbre of his voice, the expression on his face. The kid screwed up enough courage to reveal that a member of his family was in hospital and he was having trouble with it. He didn't tell anyone because he was embarrassed, and afraid of what it would mean for his place on the team.
Shawn listened to him, thought for a moment then said the kid had a decision to make. If it was too much for him, call it a night and Shawn would make sure he got the first flight home. When the time came he could come back. Or he could stay, "But you aren't playing for yourself, you have to dedicate yourself to (them). What would they want you to do? Go sit down and think about what you want to do."
The kid turned and went back to the room. Shawn gave his pep talk and everyone stood up to take the ice. The kid included. He scored a goal later that night and went on to have a good year.
In my time in Orono I tried to learn as much as I could from Shawn. He was great at incorporating statistics, ruthless with off-ice planning and his motivational techniques were remarkable. I think I learned but the players I worked with at North Yarmouth Academy can tell you how well. What I never mastered was how he read people and situations so well. How did he know? If he had bawled the kid out as we both expected the reaction sure as hell would have been different. That poor kid might have broken that night. (And no, Shawn wasn't tipped off by a phone call from home because he certainly wouldn't have waited until between periods of a game to have this conversation.)
In 1997 we played the high school state championship game at Alfond. I went to the UM locker room and a note was posted on the wall. It was Shawn personally thanking the seniors for sticking it out despite the NCAA sanctions. "Where would we be without them?" It wasn't something he just jotted down and he didn't say it because it sounded good. He meant it.
We lost someone very special, but the loss for Tyler, Travis and Sean was grievous. He would be so proud to see the men you have become and are becoming. He isn't truly gone because his spirit lives on in you.
Newer Black Bear fans cannot appreciate the treasure we had behind the bench, in the locker room, visiting the dorms and in the community. To them he is a picture in a book or a name on a building. It is up to those of us who knew him to keep his memory alive and remind those fans of just how special he was.