ORONO, Maine — Nearly seven minutes into the first period Friday night at Alfond Arena against Boston College, Maine had to be happy. After all, in only six minutes and 42 seconds, the Black Bears had achieved something few teams even dream of against Boston College: They had the Eagles frustrated.
And it paid off.
Sparked by a remarkable first period, the No. 11 Black Bears (20-10-1, 13-8-1) snatched a pivotal and head-turning 4-1 victory against the No. 4 Eagles (19-8-2, 16-5-1). In a contest that added even more fuel to one of the best rivalries in Hockey East, Maine used the play of its top two lines to grab their league-leading 20th victory and second of the year against Boston College. More importantly, however, for the Black Bears, the win allowed them a chance to regain control of their season.
“This is the playoffs for us,” said Maine forward Josh Soares, who registered the first goal of the night. “Our mindset was to come in with great intensity and to not make a ton of mistakes. And we did that.”
It doesn’t hurt either that the win comes against Boston College, the conference leader in points and a sure lock for the NCAA tournament.
“When you play one of the best teams in the country and in your league, its always fun, it’s not too hard to get up for the game” said Maine netminder Ben Bishop. “I feel like our team can beat anyone right now. Every game we’ve been taking like a playoff game and you can tell that on the ice.”
“It was just so nice to hear our fans chanting ‘overrated’ to BC at the end of the game,” said Black Bear center and assistant captain Michel Leveille. “Last year we had to hear their fans chant that against us, and it’s the worst feeling.”
For the Eagles, the defeat marked their second straight after losing a gut-wrenching Beanpot championship to Boston University on Monday. Junior Brian Boyle, however, said that had nothing to do with Friday’s loss.
“You really want to win it badly, but after its over you move on to the next game,” said Boyle.
Anchored by the sensational play of Big Ben, who hauled in 20 saves, Maine’s defense held Boston College’s talented first line of Chris Collins, Brian Boyle and Stephen Gionta to a mere seven shots. With the trio quiet for much of the game, the Black Bears’ first two lines of Greg Moore-Leveille-Soares; and Derek Damon-Billy Ryan-Mike Hamilton took over the limelight.
“Both those lines had two goals each, so I like those combos,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “I like the effort from both lines; they both worked hard and that was the key.”
The play of those two lines led to an explosive first period, which saw three goals caress the back of the Eagles net. The first came at 6:42 on the penalty kill when Soares managed to intercept a Boston College breakout pass just above the hash marks. With Eagle netminder Cory Schneider all alone, Soares ripped a wrist shot top shelf. The unassisted goal was only Maine’s second shorthanded goal of the year.
Eight minutes later at 14:30, the Black bears doubled their lead courtesy of Soares again. This time, the junior winger was able to beat the Eagles from the goal line and send a shot off the glove-side leg pad of Schneider. The puck proceeded to kick right off Schneider’s pads and onto the blade of Leveille’s stick, who was waiting in the slot. Leveille lifted the eventual game winner over the pads of Schneider and into the back of the net. Greg Moore also collected an assist on the play.
The onslaught wasn’t over yet.
At 15:27, Ryan rifled a shot from the outer reaches of the near faceoff circle Schneider only to see it smack off of Damon’s knee out front and into the goal. With the tally, Damon’s 12th of the year, the Black Bears had completely taken the Eagles out of the game.
“We’ve had some other real good first periods, but we haven’t always had the results, and that’s what made this period special; we outshot them and carried the play but we scored,” said Whitehead.
Leveille felt the opening 20 minutes served as a harbinger for the rest of the decision.
“Last weekend, we played well but we kind of sat back in the first and into the second. Tonight we came strong at them,” said Leveille. “After the first we knew that we were going to beat them.”
The opening three goals forced BC head coach Jerry York to call a timeout.
“They had to call the timeout and everything,” said Whitehead. “That gave us a good lift. I think our guys really feed off that.”
Boston, however, wasn’t about to surrender quietly. After all, this was Maine against Boston College.
Reenergized, the Eagles pulled to two at 3:42 of the second period when Stephen Gionta record his 10th of the season by beating Bishop five-hole. On the ensuing play, Gionta collected a perfect pass from Brian Boyle and skated in with even numbers to the glove-side face off circle of Bishop before sending the lower laser shot. Peter Harrold garnered his 15th assist of the year on the tally.
“Obviously, we knew they weren’t going to quit,” said Whitehead. “They really came back and had some good chances. But Bishop stood tall and made some great stops.”
The biggest of those saves came at 4:20 of the second when Bishop denied Chris Collins on a thrilling kick save. Only seconds later, Collins re-emerged with the puck and sent a pass to front of the net. Knowing full well that game was about to swing to Boston College’s corner, Bishop came out and swatted the puck away from Stephen Gionta.
Bishop discussed the two shots after the game.
“Collins was coming down on the breakaway, and I saw that he was a left-handed shot and he was being pressure so I knew he would shoot right away,” said Bishop. “He then got the puck right there in the crowd and I saw the guy up in the middle, so I just tried to get out and take the puck off his stick.”
Bishop’s reaction to the near game-changing breakaway was even more shocking than maybe the saves.
“I was really clam; I was surprisingly calm,” said Bishop. “When he came down on that breakaway I didn’t get excited at all.”
Leveille believed Bishop saves weren’t the only thing helping Maine.
“Bishop was the MVP of that game, no question,” said Ryan. “He plays a bigger game each week.”
Ryan iced the game at 19:51 with an empty-net goal from center ice.
Schneider finished the game with 36 saves and kept the Eagles within streaking distance for most of the game.
“Cory played well for us and made a lot of key saves to keep us in the game,” said Boyle.
The squads return to Alfond Arena tomorrow night to wrap up the season series. The game is slated to begin at 7 p.m.