HANOVER, N.H. — “Big Game Bouche” is back.
Nick Boucher, the confident sophomore goaltender, played his best game in a Dartmouth uniform Saturday night as the homestanding Big Green beat 11th-ranked Maine 2-1 in overtime before 3,125 fans, the largest gathering at Thompson Arena in years.
Defenseman Pete Summerfelt provided the final blow in overtime, taking a pass from blueline partner Trevor Byrne before blasting a slapshot through the Black Bear defense and into the back of the net as the home crowd erupted.
After the game, Summerfelt said that his powerful blast actually deflected off sophomore Kent Gillings’ stick before going in, but either way, the impact was the same. Dartmouth assistant coach Brendan Whittet said it best moments after the game: “That’s the biggest win this program has had in a long time.”
Head coach Bob Gaudet agreed. “It was a big win,” he said. “Maine is a tremendous team. It’s a winning program with a great coach. They do everything well. For us to play hard and keep things simple, I think it was a big statement for our guys to make.”
Boucher, Dartmouth’s poster boy entering the season — he was on all the team schedules and other promotional material — was outstanding against the Black Bears’ dangerous attack. He made 31 saves in 63:40, including 12 in the third period as Maine picked up the pace.
Boucher’s performance could hardly have come at a better time for the Big Green (2-5-0, 1-3-0 ECAC), which had lost three in a row, thanks in large part to sloppy defense and goaltending. On this night, Boucher looked a lot like the netminder who won team MVP honors last season.
He might have looked even better.
“Boucher was absolutely phenomenal,” Gaudet said. “I thought it was the best game he’s played at Dartmouth.”
For Maine (5-4-3, 2-1-1 Hockey East), junior Mike Morrison was no slouch in net, either. He made 36 saves in 63:40, and might have emerged the winner had he not been matched on the other end of the ice.
Morrison’s play kept the game close as the Black Bears were a bit sluggish, perhaps reeling from playing their third game in five days. The visitors also received few breaks as the referees waved off possible goals on two occasions, claiming the plays were dead before the red lamps had lit up.
Maine head coach Shawn Walsh disagreed, but he thinks the more deserving team won.
“Obviously, we thought we had two goals and both didn’t count,” he said. “But that’s hockey. I just think they had more jump than we did, and they had great goaltending.
“I think the deserving team won. They outshot us, they outplayed us, they had more jump than we had, and I just give them credit. I think they deserved to win.”
The teams skated to a competitive first period that featured strong defense. The goaltenders starred, each staving off a few tense moments. By the time the first-intermission buzzer sounded, Maine had outshot Dartmouth 9-6, but the game remained scoreless.
The deadlock nearly broke in the opening seconds of the middle frame. The Black Bears came out firing and had a 4-on-3 power play in the initial minute, and sophomore Robert Liscak fired a liner from the left circle that beat Boucher and caromed off the right post 40 seconds in.
The red lamp went on, but referee John Murphy ruled no goal, and the contest remained tied at zero.
The blueliners and goaltenders fought off a slew of power plays in the ensuing 15 minutes. With just over five minutes to go in the period, Dartmouth finally broke on top on another 4-on-3 power play.
Defenseman Trevor Byrne provided the heroics, beating the Black Bears’ stingy penalty kill (92.3 percent) with a hard, accurate slapshot from the right point. Byrne’s goal, his first of the season, gave his team a 1-0 lead after a second period in which Dartmouth outshot Maine 16-10.
Ten minutes into the final period, Maine made it 1-1 with a goal that was eerily similar to Byrne’s. This time, the Black Bears were on a 5-on-4 power play, and defenseman Doug Janik’s shot deflected off teammate Chris Heisten’s stick right in front of the net. Either way, Heisten’s deflection goal — giving him a team-leading 12 points — knotted the entertaining game at one.
From there, the goalies all but stood on their heads to keep the game deadlocked through regulation, as Morrison swatted away a Dartmouth 2-on-1 breakaway chance for Byrne with 20 seconds left before Boucher rejected a Lucas Lawson breakaway wrister with just under 10 to go. The teams each took 13 shots in the third period.
In overtime, the Big Green took control, nearly scoring in the opening moments before Summerfelt connected with 2:20 left to play. Summerfelt’s goal was his first of the year.
“I said it during the week,” Gaudet said. “I think we’ve been playing good hockey. It’s just a matter of time before things go your way. In some sense, you make your luck by working hard and making it happen, but it’s nice to see the guys play so well and come away with a great win.”
The Big Green now has a long break for exams before hosting the Northeastern Huskies on Dec. 9, while Maine will take a short breather before hosting those same Huskies next Friday.