ORONO, Maine — It wasn’t a national championship game. It wasn’t even the playoffs. In fact, it was Maine’s home opener not even close to postseason. But for No. 12 Maine, a 5-1 win Friday night against back-to-back national champion No. 2 Denver was gratifying.
The last meeting between the Black Bears and Pioneers resulted in a 1-0 Denver win in the 2004 national championship game. Maine’s Derek Damon had a goal waived off in the first period of that contest when the Black Bears were whistled for a man in the crease. Denver’s Gabe Gauthier responded with a power play goal that stood as the lone tally of the game.
This time, a second-period goal provided by captain Greg Moore proved to be the game winner for the Black Bears.
Maine head coach Tim Whitehead said he was encouraged to see his players performing to the level he saw at the end of last season. He said the dismal start to that season, which included a home-opening overtime loss to North Dakota, needs to be avoided.
“We got contributions from everybody,” Whitehead said after the game. “There were no weak links.”
In his second career start, Maine freshman Ben Bishop won his first collegiate game in goal after losing 3-2 in overtime to No. 6 Colorado College last Saturday.
“He’s going to be a heck of a goalie for us,” said Whitehead. “I’m very proud of how he responded to this challenge.”
Bishop saved 15 of 16 shots on goal in his first start playing in front of the home audience at Alfond Arena.
“The crowd was unbelievable,” he said. “It was piercing at times. The atmosphere was a lot more than what I expected.”
Netminder Glenn Fisher went 23 of 27 for Denver.
The Pioneers were first to score in the game. Junior right-winger Ryan Helgason took the puck into the Maine zone on a two-on-one rush. Skating through the slot, Helgason tapped the puck to freshman defenseman T.J. Fast. At the top of the crease, Fast scooted it back to Helgason, who flicked it over Bishop’s stick and into the back of the net to make the score 1-0.
“The first goal was unfortunate,” said Bishop. “Our guy fell at the blue line, then they came out on a two-on-one, and they passed it over. I thought they were going to shoot it, but then they made a great pass backdoor. From there, they had an empty net.”
Maine had a high-percentage opportunity midway through the opening period when forward Keith Johnson corralled the rebound off Damon’s initial attempt. Johnson’s shot ricocheted off Fisher’s pads and over his shoulder. But the junior goaltender managed to tip the puck over the net to deny the equalizer.
Denver outshot Maine 11-8 in the first period.
“That wasn’t the type of effort that is going to win a hockey game,” Whitehead said of the opening period. “But they’re a good group and knew how to respond. Everyone got on the same page.”
Junior center and assistant captain Michel Leveille echoed Whitehead’s statements.
“We were disappointed with the first period,” he said. “We knew we could make some plays, and we wanted to get back on track in the second, and we did.”
At the 14:45 point of the second and on the power play, the Black Bears scored that game-tying tally on Josh Soares’ second goal of the season. From just inside the blue line, sophomore center Keenan Hopson fired a low shot toward the goal that hit Soares’ stick and bounded over Fisher’s glove-side shoulder. The goalie attempted to snatch the puck out of the air but watched it drop on the opposite side of the goal line.
Only 41 seconds later, with the balance of momentum appearing to tilt toward Maine, Moore put his team on top 2-1. Off Moore’s stick, the puck scampered across the crease and snuck past Fisher’s blocker.
Denver head coach George Gwozdecky said the shift in energy was difficult to overcome.
“There were a number of times when we started to over handle the puck especially our older players,” he said. “Our offensive timing was nonexistent because of it. We started playing into the hands of the opponent.”
A Jon Jankus goal made it 3-1 Maine at the 4:34 mark of the third. Skating through the left faceoff circle, Mike Hamilton backhanded a pass to Jankus, who snapped a wrist shot over Fisher’s glove.
The Pioneers had a chance to gain ground after a skirmish in front of the Denver bench. Among other offsetting penalties, Soares was whistled for a double minor for roughing. The Black Bears killed the four-minute power play while coupling it with a few short-handed opportunities.
“That was a great effort considering we had two of our defensemen in the penalty box,” said Whitehead, referring to Bret Tyler and Travis Ramsey, who was called for a 10-minute misconduct. “We had to run four defensemen against their great power play unit.”
With less than two minutes remaining, Fisher vacated the net, allowing Leveille to fire through an unassisted goal to make it 4-1.
After Fisher re-entered the game, Damon rounded off the scoring at 5-1 with a last-second score at the 19:59 mark.
Maine outshot Denver 28-16. The Black Bears also committed 12 penalties while the Pioneers rounded up seven.