ORONO, Maine — Before a subdued crowd at Alfond Arena, St. Lawrence’s Mike McKenna put on a goaltending clinic for all of New England. In a performance that confirmed McKenna’s emergence as one of the best goaltenders on the East Coast, the Saints upset heavily-favored Maine 1-0.
In a game that saw both goalies counter each other on each end of the ice, McKenna used a first-period goal and a last-second miss by the Black Bears’ Derek Damon to garner the victory. For McKenna, it was his first shutout of the season and third of his career.
The talented senior silenced the Maine bench by hauling in 34 saves on the evening.
“The guys in front of me really put their hearts out on the ice and played incredible,” said McKenna. “Any time you put a shutout on a board it’s a memorable performance.”
Still reeling from last weekend’s 75-save performance against Michigan State and Michigan, McKenna, the USCHO Defensive Player of the Week, suggested it was his team’s ability to outskate its opponents for 60 minutes that led to the victory.
“On the five-on-five tonight, we really outplayed them,” said McKenna.
Maine head coach Tim Whitehead took time after the game to applaud the effort in net by the senior.
“McKenna was just fabulous, he never wavered,” said Whitehead. “He was really in control; he was up to the challenge.”
It was a victory that nearly saw extra frames after the Black Bears put on a feverish attack in the final moments. Maine pulled All-American goalie Jimmy Howard with 1:26 on the clock for a six-on-five advantage.
However, the Black Bears were unable to capitalize on several opportunities in front of the Saints’ net — most notably a play on which the nation’s leading scorer, Damon, sneaked in backdoor on McKenna with three seconds remaining, only to fan on an open-net shot.
The Black Bears could not fling the puck back out front for another chance at the tie.
“We certainly had our chances to tie the game,” said Whitehead. “The longer the game went we had the opportunities, but sometimes it just doesn’t go your way.”
In net for the Black Bears, Howard posted his strongest outing of the year with 25 stops, including a flurry of kick saves. He faced his most daunting challenge in the second period when St. Lawrence fired 12 shots on net.
“I thought Jimmy was great,” said Whitehead. “It was his biggest game of the year for us, so I thought that was a great positive.”
The lone goal, at 2:29 of the first period, was the only blemish on Howard’s scorecard, and it came when talented forward John Zeiler eluded the Black Bear defense to snatch a bouncing puck in front.
The puck shot across the front side of the net to where Zeiler was waiting to pounce. The junior forward recovered the puck to fire a high wrist shot over the shoulder of Howard. Zeiler was assisted on the play by Matt MacDonald and Jim Hakewill.
The Black Bears held the advantage in the shot department at the end of the match, besting the Saints by a 34-26 total. Maine also held the edge in power plays with nine. It was a statistic that served as the Black Bears’ biggest black eye. Maine was unable to score on any power play, going 0-9.
With the loss, the Black Bears fall to 3-3-0 on the year, while the win improves St. Lawrence to an overall record of 2-2-1.
Both teams return to action Saturday night for the conclusion of the series.