ORONO, [nl] Maine — Maine head coach Tim Whitehead knew all about Alabama-Huntsville. He knew about their top five. Their goalie. Their high-octane offense. Oh, and he most certainly knew about the damage they could do in Maine’s barn.
On Friday, before a rowdy Alfond Arena, that knowledge paid off. Behind another solid performance by freshman netminder Ben Bishop, the Black Bears garnered a hard fought 3-1 victory. Combined with Bishop’s steady play and another strong night by Michel Leveille, the Black Bears skated to a third consecutive victory and their 16th straight at home.
“I think it was a very challenging game mentally and our guys came to play,” said Whitehead. “It may not have been our best performance but it was a strong performance.”
Entering the game high off a sweep of the two-time defending champion Denver, Maine didn’t let Alabama-Huntsville sneak up on them this time.
In 2004, the Chargers handed Maine their lone stalemate at home. The Black Bears, would eventually go 17-1-1 in their barn, falling one goal shy of the national title game. That game was ever present on the mind of the Black Bears.
“This was exactly what we expected,” said Whitehead.
The Black Bears were able to avoid another blemish on the home record thanks largely to Leveille, who tallied the eventual game-winner at 16:56 of the second period.
With the Chargers on a 5-on-3 penalty kill, Maine used crisp passing from Matt Duffy and Greg Moore to feed Leveille the puck. With the junior positioned perfectly, Duffy slide untouched pass across the far face off circle. Holding the puck for only a mere second Leveille rifled the shot past Alabama Huntsville goalie Scott Munroe.
“It hit me but still went through, the guy had a heck of shot from the point,” said Munroe talking about the goal. “You can’t go down 5-on-3 against a team with a power play like that.”
“I saw it but it just beat me five-hole, I didn’t get squared up.”
At the time the goal gave Maine a 2-0 advantage.
The Chargers made things interesting early on in the third period when Mike Salekin rocketed a laser from the point past Bishop. Salekin basically created the play by himself after Josh Soares of Maine blocked his initial shot. With the puck bouncing inches from the blue line Salekin saved the opportunity and brought it back into the zone. From there he sent his shot in from above the hash marks.
It was the only goal to reach the back of Bishop’s net for the rest of the night.
“Another great game by the defense, I am kind of getting use to it now,” said Bishop. “They are blocking shots everywhere.”
Maine received the insurance goal they needed at 12:40 when Bryan Plaszcz, making his Alfond debut, registered his first collegiate goal off an assist from Jon Jankus.
“I tell you he won’t forget that,” said Whitehead. “He will always remember that one; its great to have one too that has some meaning to it too. That was a key goal in the third period.”
The Black Bears would seal the game up after the Plaszcz rebound tally. That’s not to say the Chargers didn’t give up without a fight. In the final 12 minutes, the Chargers continued to apply pressure to Bishop’s net.
“They had several chances after they made it 2-1,” said Whitehead. “Bishop made some great stops. I thought they played with a lot of intensity and made good plays.”
The best opportunity came with barely four minutes left when David Nimmo skated in for a breakaway on Bishop.
“If he gets a clean look at its really hard to beat him,” said Nimmo.
The skilled junior went glove side on the freshman, who hauled the puck in with a quick swipe.
“Bishop has been playing like he has been here for three years its unbelievable,” said junior Keith Johnson.
The freshman netminder hauled in 20 saves, while Munroe garnered a remarkable 34 stops. Despite the loss he nearly stole the show.
“He was fabulous, Scott Munroe is a goaltender,” said Whitehead. “I thought if your a fan of goalies this was your game. He made some crazy saves. I was very impressed with him.”
Munroe wasn’t the only goalie attracting attention.
“I thought Bishop was very composed and got the leg down at the right time and made some great saves,” said Whitehead.
It was in Bishop’s third career victory in four games.
Maine got on the board first after Johnson scored at 8:53 of the second period. The goal created solely off the hustle of Johnson and Soares was harbinger for things to come.
“It was just on a 4-on-4 with Derek Damon and we were really just buzzing around in the zone and there was a lot of traffic in front, one of defenseman got a shot on net and I just put a rebound on him and it went through his legs,” said Johnson.
Travis Wight and Damon recorded assists on the goal.
Maine finished the game 1-for-8 on the power play, while the Chargers were 0-for-3.
“I thought we did a nice job on special teams, obviously you always want to have more than one power play goal but I thought goals were tough to come by in this game,” said Whitehead.
With the victory the Black Bears improved to 4-1 overall, while the Chargers slide to 0-1-0.
“After that third period we got a lot of offense going and we played well as time went on,” said Nimmo. “Hopefully we can carry it through for tomorrow.”
“This is really our first game of the year, we were just a little rusty in the first two periods, in the third we kind of got our legs under us, so I think we just need to build on that,” said Munroe.
As for Whitehead and company they will be expecting everything.
“It will be more of the same tomorrow,” said Whitehead. “Its going to be a tough hard fought game. We know that’s what we are going to get. There’s no quit in that team.”
The second game of the series starts tomorrow at 7 p.m.