CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — Who says all great hockey is played in March?
In a battle of two of the top clubs in Hockey East, the No. 5 Maine Black Bears used solid special teams and great goaltending to sneak past host No. 8 Boston College, 2-1, in a game that featured crisp passing and solid pace throughout.
“Both teams made plays, and I thought there was a lot more composure than you might see early in the year,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead, whose club weathered a storm early in the game when it got outshot 14-3 in the first period by BC.
The Black Bears, after falling behind 1-0 early in the second, got two power-play tallies before the end of the frame and then relied on the goaltending of rookie Ben Bishop (30 saves) to close out the game and the hopes of the 6,108 BC faithful at Kelley Rink.
The story of the game for Maine turned out to be the play of its special teams. Able to kill off all five Boston College power plays, the Black Bears scored twice with the man advantage, both goals coming on hard slap shots.
“We really improved our skill [on the power play],” said Whitehead, whose club has now scored power-play goals in three straight and six of its first seven games. “We played real young up front last year, so we thought we would take a step up offensively.”
Also impressive for the Black Bears was the play of Bishop. Coming into the year with some of the biggest shoes to fill in the country, he, along with partner-in-goal Matt Lundin, have proven that Maine’s biggest question coming into the season has been answered.
“[Bishop] has met every challenge thrown at him,” said Whitehead of his 6-foot-7 netminder who is now 4-1-0 in his first five starts as a Black Bear. “He’s played to his size and he’s filled the net obviously, but he’s good in tight as well.”
A scoreless first period saw both teams muster quality chances. Maine’s Michel Leveille was stopped on a one-time from 35 feet by BC netminder Cory Schneider (29 saves) at 3:30, before BC’s Joe Rooney was stopped on a breakaway a minute later. Chris Collins had his shorthanded bid for the Eagles turned aside by Bishop to keep the game scoreless through one.
Maine, after weathering the early storm, countered with 18 second-period shots, most of them on the power play.
It was BC, though, that got on the board first. Collins, moving from the corner, bobbled the puck in front of Bishop. As the rookie netminder surrendered the near post moving across, Collins made a nice one-handed move to stuff the puck giving BC a 1-0 lead at 1:59.
“Collins made a good play,” said Bishop. “I came out to poke check him and I came off the side of the net a little bit and he banged it off my skate. I should’ve had the post.”
On the power play, though, Maine wrote the storyline of the game. The Black Bears scored twice with the man advantage before the period’s end. Derek Damon blasted a one-timer from the left faceoff dot far side on Schneider at 7:57. Billy Ryan then connected on a hard slapper from the left point with a two-man advantage at 19:33.
A lead was the last thing that BC wanted to give Maine heading into the third. The Black Bears are now 85-0-5 when leading entering the third period, dating back to December 30, 2001.
In the third, Maine proved that statistic sound, playing solid defensively by limiting BC to just eight shots on goal, just three of those of the quality variety. One of those bids, though, was a blast by Rooney that Bishop came as far out as possible to give the Eagles sniper no room to score.
“He’s such a big guy, that you don’t see much,” said BC’s Collins of Bishop. “He’s tough to shoot on, that’s for sure.”
The loss drops Boston College below .500 early in the season (1-2-1, 0-1-1 Hockey East) while Maine improves to an impressive 6-1-0. The Eagles will host Providence on Saturday, while Maine will travel to Massachusetts.