ORONO, Me. — With Halloween looming nearly three days away and devilish storm brewing outside, Maine, the no. 1 team in the country, received a mighty scare from Massachusetts Saturday night before escaping with a tenacious 4-1 victory.
Behind a remarkable tally by defenseman Bret Tyler, the Black Bears [6-0-0] managed to remain unbeaten and collect their first Hockey East points of the season after overcoming both a upset-minded Minuteman squad [2-0-1] and a power outrage that left a quarter of the arena in the dark for more than 20 minutes.
“Hey Halloween is right around the corner and the wind was howling outside,” said Maine head coach Tim Whitehead. “I mean we have the lights going out, the crowd is doing the wave, the players jump in on the wave — we had a little bit of everything tonight. Fortunately we were able to send the crowd home happy.”
After watching Massachusetts trick or treat all night in the Maine defensive zone, Tyler put the Black Bears up for good and broke a 1-1 stalemate when he snatched a misfired pass from junior Billy Ryan at the top of the point. Racing pass a pair of Minutemen defenders, Tyler proceed to zoom behind the back of goalie John Quick’s net for a wraparound tally.
“I was coming off the bench and Billy looked like Alexander Oveckin there by feathering it through the [defenseman's] legs and somehow it found its way on my stick,” said Tyler. “You know I just wrapped around the night and looked for a guy to dish it to. But there was no one open. Quick kind of stood up and left a little room in the five hole. Luckily I got to squeeze it through there.”
On the eventual-game winner, which came with just 4:36 remaining in the contest, Tyler waited a near nano second before rifling off a low-laying wrist shot.
“I kind of waited a minute and so he started to go up, then I just figured I try to get it on net,” said Tyler.
For Maine, the late-game heroics from Tyler weren’t surprising. Already this season, the aggressive defenseman has snagged seven points. The score, however, was his first of the year.
“He’s clutch for us,” said captain Michel Leveille about Tyler. “He said he was going to get it back for us and he did. He keeps his promises. He’s been playing well for us. He always seems to get the big goals at the right time and that is what we need. We need a guy to step up at the right time.”
Whitehead said he has come to expect that time of awareness from the Massachusetts native.
“Bret has such great instincts for the game,” said Whitehead. “He’s a guy that can make a play in a tight area, under pressure. I thought he had exceptional game not just because he scored but he was getting pucks through from the point. He really has great hand-eye coordination and a great knack for reading the play.”
Thanks to the score, the Black Bears avoided any chance of catching the recent upset bug that has been plaguing the college hockey world. Buoyed by their new found 2-1 advantage, Maine’s defense clamped down on the Minuteman and slowed down the first line attack of Matt Anderson, Chris Davis and Mark Matheson. Throughout the majority of the decision though, Massachusetts combated the Black Bears’ attack with their own speed that did not go unnoticed by Whitehead or Tyler.
“I thought there was a very good pace to the game,” said Whitehead. “Obviously, we like to play a high tempo style and I was impressed that they went toe-to-toe with us. They are going to be very, very competitive this year.”
“I mean that team was fast,” said Tyler. “We’ve played some of the best competition in the country with Minnesota, North Dakota and Bemidji State and there right up there with any of them for quickness. You have to give them a lot of credit.”
Massachusetts’ speed paid off early on in the third period when Will Ortiz found some open ice on the power play and lofted a shot past netminder Ben Bishop. The goal coming at 4:41 into the third period saw assists arrive courtesy of Justin Braun and Martin Nolet.
“I didn’t really see it,” said Bishop. “It went through our guy. I don’t even think he got all of it on it. I think he turned it on its side. It was just a weird goal.”
The tally, which evened up the game at one all, would not have been possible if wasn’t for Quick. Time and time again throughout the night, Quick, 24 saves, allowed the Minutemen to stay in the game with countless quality saves. The effort by Quick and company did not go unnoticed.
“I never think they’re underrated,” said Leveille discussing Massachusetts. “I always think they’re a good team. Their goalie was tremendous tonight. He’s going to be a good goalie all year. He’s one of the best ones I’ve seen so far. He’s always square to the puck and that is what you need from a goalie.”
On the other end, Bishop refused to miss out on the limelight as well. In another impressive performance Bishop registered 16 saves, while letting in just one goal.
“I thought both goalies were fabulous,” said Whitehead. “I thought you saw two of the best goalies in the East. Both should be proud.”
For Bishop, the match-up allowed him to go head-to-head to with a netminder playing at the top of his game, while also providing him with the chance to make improvements in his own game.
“We were both playing well,” said Bishop about Quick and himself. “He made some unbelievable saves tonight and I was just trying to match him. I was trying not to give any rebound shots up and I think I did a good job of that.”
That didn’t mean Bishop didn’t have his struggles. The 6-7 goalie was the first to say how difficult the power outrage made life between the pipes.
“They’re a great team, they played hard but it was kind of a funky game,” said Bishop. “The whole situation felt weird. I was just happy with our older guys who in-between that last half got us real focused and then we went out and proved that we were the better team.”
Bishop is speaking specifically about the breakage in play that resulted because of the down lights. Because of the outraged the teams were forced to head to the locker room at 7:46 of the second period only to retake the ice 25 minutes later. Upon competition of the second period, each team reminded on the ice for the third period which was then broken down into two ten minute halves.
“Its kind of hard, you’re trying to stay focus and then that happens,” said Bishop. “You go off the ice and do some funky ten minute-ten minute thing that just gets you off your game. You just have to stay focus and worry about the next shot, not the lights going off.”
Whitehead joked that this type of weird affair is typical at Alfond. “I told the freshman ‘once a year, get ready for it, maybe twice,” said Whitehead.
With Maine up by one in the final minutes of the game, the squad recorded hard fought empty netters from both Wes Clark and Leveille. The first by Clark came at 19:22 he dove at a loose puck in the neutral zone and managed to swipe all the way into the net.
“It showed a lot of second-effort,” said Whitehead about the empty-netter. “It was a classic case of second effort. I was happy for Wes, he played hard tonight.”
Leveille’s with just 11 seconds remaining was his second goal of the night. The first tally at 16:46 of the first period was compliments of a pass from assistant captain and line mate Josh Soares.
“It was just a nice pass from Soares and I was just a little ahead of the defenseman,” said Leveille. “I was thinking about making a move like on my second breakaway and I saw him ready for that, so I just went short side.”
Maine will now take their two points and head off to play Merrimack and Boston University next weekend on the road, while UMass heads home to face-off with Providence on Friday.
“This was a great indication of how tough it is going to be in the league this year,” said Whitehead. “I was very impressed with their club in every aspect of the game. We are pleased to come out with two points.”