The ‘Naked 5’ Celebrate 3 Decades of Inspiring UMaine Hockey Fans

THE UNIVERSITY of Maine was the talk of the college hockey world in February 1993. Coach Shawn Walsh’s Black Bears were undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the country for a key Hockey East home series against Boston University at Alfond Arena.

For the Friday game, four students from Hart Hall wanted to do something to earn some TV time on NESN. They each painted a blue letter on their torso to spell MAINE (one featured the I and the N) and headed over.

“We smuggled some rum and Coke into the Alfond and it took until the third period to get enough courage up to take our shirts off,” said Matt Tonello ’94 of North Andover, Massachusetts. “And as soon as we did, the place went crazy.”

But BU stunned UMaine 7-6 in overtime, the Black Bears’ only loss during the historic 42-1-2 season. They returned the next night and bared their chests during a resounding 6-1 UMaine victory.

After the game, Tonello and Brian Quigley of Beverly, Massachusetts, got cleaned up and started hitchhiking, bound for a party in Old Town. A car on College Avenue slowed, pulled over, and offered them a ride. The occupants were Shawn Walsh and his wife, Tracey.

The students, who didn’t initially recognize Walsh, were stunned. They chatted about the game and their shenanigans, then were dropped off at their destination.

Walsh, who wanted more student enthusiasm at games, contacted the men and invited them to his office. He asked them to continue their antics.

“He said ‘you’re going to need another person,’” Tonello said of Walsh’s desire to have each letter in “MAINE” worn by an individual.

The “Naked 5” was born.

The groundbreaking group included Tonello, Quigley, Chris O’Brien ’93 of Portland, John Poulin ’94, ’01G of Weymouth, Massachusetts, and Tom “T.C.” Hale ’93 of Leicester, Massachusetts.

Walsh provided them with UMaine sweatpants, hats, and tickets to home games.

“We recruited a fifth person and, lo and behold, we made it to the end of the season,” Tonello said. “We went to Milwaukee with them (for the Frozen Four). It was great.”

The men, who also painted cheers on their backs, rallied the fans by leading various cheers and chants.

“They’ve gotten the crowd going a lot more than they had been. They’ve made a big difference,” team captain Chris Imes ’95 told the Bangor Daily News in 1993.

When the national champion Black Bears made their triumphant return to Alfond Arena after beating Lake Superior State, the Naked 5 were front and center.

“They had us lead the team onto the ice with the flag,” Tonello said.

FOR MOST OF the last three decades, the Naked 5 have helped make Alfond Arena one of the most intimidating venues in college hockey.

There was some inconsistency, including games and seasons when the group did not operate, but Walsh refused to allow the group to disappear.

Late in the 1995-96 season, Walsh was soliciting volunteers. Freshman Daren Worcester ’99 and some friends, including Justin Boynton, had been vocal at home games. Their efforts did not go unnoticed, and Walsh summoned the group to his office.

“He had the whole thing planned out, from moving the student section into the noisy metal-bleacher balcony, right down to the cheers we would do,” Worcester said.

Walsh promised the students that if they revitalized the group, and the Black Bears reached the national title game, he would pay their way.

The new Naked 5 debuted the following season and relinquished their duties for the 1998-99 campaign — when UMaine claimed the national championship.

“Coach Walsh held up his end of the bargain — for the new guys,” Worcester said. “We saw them on ESPN.”

More recently, with different fraternities controlling access to spots in the Naked 5, they are again a fixture at Alfond Arena. In 2018, the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity acquired the last two letters.

Tom Hanscom ’19 is UMaine’s assistant director of athletic marketing and serves as SigEp’s resident scholar. He said the fraternity’s stewardship of the Naked 5 has solidified the entity.

Successors are now hand-picked by outgoing members to help ensure the commensurate amount of zeal and commitment are maintained.

Brewer native Greg Warmuth ’19 grew up attending UMaine games with his parents. When the opportunity arose, he volunteered to become the “E.”

“I was going to go to all the games anyway. I was a big Maine hockey fan,” Warmuth said.

The unit was sidelined with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 and during the following season. Only one Hockey East playoff contest against New Hampshire was played that year in Orono.

“The Naked 5 pushed hard to be allowed in, but the strict no-fans policy was in effect,” Hanscom said.

“Instead, on a brisk March evening [in 2021], the Naked 5 stood outside, shirtless and masked, watching the live stream, and ran all the way around the arena when Maine scored both of its goals in a 7-2 loss,” Hanscom said.

On game nights, members gather at SigEp, located across College Avenue from the Alfond. They paint the letters

 on each other’s chests and, like the original Naked 5, wear cheers and slogans on their backs.

Caleb Canders, a sophomore from Brewer, was told by his dad that he vowed one day to become one of the guys who ran around the arena.

“It’s actually kind of surreal and an honor to be a part of this long-standing tradition that made me excited about UMaine athletics as a kid growing up,” said Canders, who currently serves as the “A.” “Hopefully, I can do that for others. It’s really cool.”

ABOUT 15 MINUTES before puck drop, the Naked 5 sprint over to the Alfond, where they assume their positions in designated balcony spots. There, they participate in traditional cheers, chants, and pep band songs, hoping to inspire the fans.

“It was all the better that we were big fans anyway and wanted to see them win,” Warmuth said. “It was fun.”

When UMaine scores and the horn blares, the men sprint down the balcony stairs and begin circling the arena. The Naked 5 are careful about running at a safe pace and the “M” carries a bell that he rings to alert people that they’re approaching.

“Usually we go to the open space and avoid obstacles but if there’s a big clog of people, we’ll just have to wait,” Canders said. “The goal is to have a nice, smooth lap.”

Between periods, the Naked 5 also make their way around the arena, posing for photos, signing autographs, and grabbing an occasional snack in the luxury boxes.

“It is a huge cultural event and players and fans from all around Hockey East and all visiting teams will talk to you about it if given the chance,” said Doug Damon ’85 of Bangor. He and his wife, Cherie, are longtime season ticket holders.

The Naked 5 have long been part of the fabric of hockey at the Alfond.

“They fire up the crowd, both of the teams playing, and the spectators,” Damon said. “I believe this makes it a better hockey experience.”