ORONO, Maine — With a win over Niagara Saturday night, Maine left Alfond Arena with not just another victory, but hopes for another top-notch goaltender.
Freshman Matt Lundin made his first start in goal for the sixth-ranked Black Bears, picking up 28 saves on 30 shots to help his team to a 6-2 win over the Purple Eagles. His only other action this season was a four-minute stint in Maine’s 7-1 opening win against Vermont in which he went four-for-four in save opportunities. This season, Lundin will back junior netminder and Hobey Baker candidate Jimmy Howard.
“Lundin knew it was a very good team we were playing,” said Maine head coach Tim Whitehead. “It was a tough situation for him to walk into, but he responded well. He was tested, and he was up to the challenge.”
Besides Lundin’s performance, two goals apiece by junior centers Derek Damon and Jon Jankus helped Maine improve to 3-2-0 this season while Niagara remains winless with a 0-4-0 record. Freshman right winger Mike Maier and sophomore center Aaron Clarke recorded the two Niagara tallies.
Lundin made the first save of the game on a scoring chance by Niagara three minutes into the first. Another quality save came at the 7:00 mark when Clarke sent a long pass from the Niagara face-off circle to the Maine blue line where sophomore Sean Bentivoglio picked it up and broke in on Lundin who shut the door.
Sophomore defenseman Mike Lundin, Matt’s older brother, smiled when he heard Whitehead announce the starting goalie before the game and was even happier to see him succeed on the ice.
“It was great for his confidence early in the game to make those tough saves, so that helped him for the rest of the game,” said Mike Lundin. “For his first college hockey game, I thought he played very well.”
Maine got on the board first with Damon’s fourth goal of the season at the 9:32 mark of the first period. Planted just outside the crease, Damon pounced on the rebound from a Billy Ryan shot and swatted the puck under Niagara goalie Jeff Van Nynatten’s glove.
Niagara and Maine were fairly evenly matched in the first period with the Purple Eagles outshooting the Black Bears 12-11.
Maine extended its lead to 2-0 on Jankus’ first goal of the season 4:22 into the second period. With the Black Bear attackers swarming in front of Van Nynatten, sophomore Mike Hamilton found Jankus, who stuffed a backhand through the goalie’s legs.
A minute after the Jankus goal, Maier and Niagara’s all-freshman fourth line cut the deficit in half. Lundin made the save on Maier’s initial shot in front of the crease, but after gathering his own rebound, Maier sent the puck home to make the score 2-1. It was his first collegiate goal.
The Black Bears padded their lead with Damon’s power play goal 13:14 into the second period to make it 3-1. Damon took advantage of more confusion in front of the Niagara net by converting an assist from Greg Moore for his second goal of the game.
“The puck squeaked over to Moore, and he put a good shot on net,” said Damon. “Then, it just popped out to me, and I was fortunate to be at the right place at the right time.”
More than a minute later, the Maine offense struck again. Off a pass from sophomore forward Brent Shepheard, who was parked behind the far side of the Niagara net, Ben Murphy fired a one-timer from left of the crease to beat Van Nynatten and give Maine a commanding 4-1 lead.
Niagara sophomore backup goalie Allen Barton replaced Van Nynatten for the third period in head coach Dave Burkholder’s attempt to inspire his offense.
“We challenged our guys again by sending Barton out,” said Burkholder, referring to Friday night’s 4-3 loss to the Black Bears in which his team scored two goals in the final period. “We wanted to try to win the third period like last night because you never know what can happen.”
Following a penalty on the Black Bears, that strategy paid off when Niagara got back to within two goals on a score from Clarke just 50 seconds into the final period to make it 4-2. Clarke converted a pass and fired the puck into the top shelf past Lundin’s stick side.
A half-minute following the quick Niagara goal, Jankus foiled the Purple Eagles’ plan for a comeback. Jankus found the net with a 70-foot wrist shot for his second goal of the game to increase his team’s lead to 5-2. The puck was redirected at the blue line by the defender but beat Barton on his right stick side.
“I didn’t know what was in my head,” said Jankus. “I was just trying to get it on net, and the next thing I know, it was in the net.”
“That goal was a killer,” said Burkholder. “When we made it 4-2, we had all the momentum going. But that goal really hurt our chances.”
Maine’s Michel Leveille converted a shorthanded opportunity 5:11 into the third to increase the Black Bear lead. Corralling a pass from the far side face-off circle into the slot, Leveille snuck it past the Barton’s left blocker pad to make the final score 6-2.
Lundin was pleased to get his first start in net out of the way.
“I was just trying to get out there and challenge the competitor,” he said. “It was good to get that first win, so now I can go in every game a lot more comfortable.
“Jimmy Howard also gave me a lot of support before going out there, just telling me to play my game. That was good to hear. It gave me a lot of confidence.”
Burkholder was also captivated by the opposing goalie’s performance.
“He was obviously having jitters for his first start,” said the Niagara coach. “But I was very impressed. He was so solid, and he just made everything look easy. He had very good rebound control, and it doesn’t shock me that Maine will probably have another great goalie on their hands. I don’t know how they do it, but they seem to be able to find them.”
Next week, Niagara will square off with Vermont in two games, while Maine will take on St. Lawrence in a pair of homes games.