ORONO, Maine — At last.
After 18 one-goal games and a year and half as Maine’s No. 1 netminder, sophomore Ben Bishop finally snagged his first collegiate shutout with a 3-0 victory Friday night over Providence (4-10-1, 3-6-1 Hockey East).
This time there was no late third-period score. No fluke tally. No misplayed puck that translated into an easy goal.
Instead, Big Ben, with 30 saves, got to show off that mammoth smile of his.
“Oh it’s nice — it feels good,” said a jovial Bishop. “It took a year and a half so it’s well-deserved. I was just trying to stay focused in those last two minutes. I was trying not to think of it. I had Billy Ryan coming down and he kept reminding me how much time I had left. It was pretty funny.”
The win not only moved Bishop out of Susan Lucci territory but helped the No. 3 Black Bears (9-3-1, 4-3-1 Hockey East) snap a disappointing three-game losing streak. With defeats coming against New Hampshire, Boston College and Vermont all in November, the duel against the Friars was a chance to get the holiday season off to a joyous start for Maine.
“You’re going to lose games during the season and have ups and downs but it’s just how you respond to them,” said junior forward Mike Hamilton, who recorded his third goal of the season in the match. “I think we responded really well. We took a step in the right direction and now we just have to keep building.”
Bishop’s first shutout wasn’t the lone fresh facet to the contest. To begin the night, Maine head coach Tim Whitehead reshuffled all four of his offensive lines and even messed around with a defensive pairing. Luckily for Whitehead and company, the moves paid off.
“Any time you do juggle the lines a bit, you’re hoping you can get a spark there,” said Whitehead. “I thought each line brought a little something different. I thought they communicated well, which can sometimes be a problem with new combos.”
Senior forward Brent Shepheard, who replaced Josh Soares on the first line and scored the game-winning tally, felt the lineup switcharoo gave the Black Bears a pleasant kick.
“We were struggling lately a bit offensively so obviously it was a good time for Coach to juggle some lines and try some new combos,” said Shepheard. “I think the main reason for the change was to give everyone a spark or boost. Juggling the lines is a good way to do that. Everybody wanted to have a good game tonight with their new linemates.”
In the end, the change paid off for Maine with several less-heralded players contributing. With all three scores coming from different lines, the Black Bear faithful got to see impressive tallies from Shepheard, Hamilton and defenseman Matt Duffy.
“We paid a good price tonight to earn this victory,” said Whitehead. “I thought we played very hard and yet I think the best part of the win was that we played with discipline. Shepheard set the tone with the first shift. He went hard for a rebound and kind of got tackled and he got right out of there. I thought that set the tone for the rest of the team that we mean business and we weren’t going to get drawn into any of that. That was a crucial aspect to our success tonight.”
After playing to a stalemate in the first period, the Black Bears found the scoreboard. On the play, Shepheard managed to push the puck behind Friar goalie Tyler Sims on a wraparound score.
“We were just kind of working it behind the net; Teddy [Purcell] had it and he had a d-man on him, so I called for him to leave it behind,” said Shepheard. “He kind of just pushed it ahead for me. My first instinct was just to wrap it around because we where on the one side of the net. I took it around the back and tried to fool the goalie and maybe get there before he could. Luckily, I tucked it in short side before he got across.”
Shepheard’s score was followed by a quick goal from Hamilton at 9:31 of the period. With Ryan behind the net with the puck, Hamilton managed to break free and get in perfect position for a shot at the far faceoff circle.
“[Travis] Ramsey made a great play pinching the line and put it back around the net to me,” said Hamilton. “I just cut back and gave it to Bill and with his poise and patience he just got behind the net and waited. I just gave myself a little angle to the net and he made a great pass. I just put it on net and it went in.”
Despite the two-goal advantage entering the third period, the Black Bears weren’t out of harm’s way. Throughout the final period, the Friars snatched some of their best opportunities. The biggest of those chances came during a five-minute stretch that saw the Black Bears saddled with three straight penalties.
At 4:19 of the period, the Friars garnered a 5-on-3, the first of the game. However, the Friars were unable to capitalize on any quality chances in the Maine zone.
“We knew they were going to throw the kitchen sink at us in the third and I thought Bish stood tall,” said Whitehead. “Our d-core did a very good job of eliminating second shots.”
“Killing those penalties off kind of gave us momentum and a little jump to finish the game,” said Hamilton.
Once they weathered the Providence power plays, Hamilton said the Black Bears relied on what they had done all game to register the victory.
“One of the big things was that we kept pressure on them at times instead of just sitting back defensively,” said Hamilton. “Whenever we could we kept pressure on them and tried to take time and space away. I think that helped our defense stand up and also create some turnover chances.”
Bishop credited that effort to a pre-game discussion among the team.
“We had a great team meeting before this game, watching some video and what we did in the past few games compared to what we did in the first few games,” said Bishop. “Everybody could see that we didn’t play well the last few games. But the way we came out tonight, you could tell right away that we weren’t going to lose this game.
“The guys did a great job blocking shots tonight. I think it was the most in the last two years. I owe a lot to the defense. A lot of credit goes to them.”
Duffy rocketed the home the final goal on the power play at 17:23 of the third period. Combined with the point-shot score, Duffy had two assists in the decision.
With the victory, Maine avoided becoming only the third Black Bear squad in the past 20 years to suffer a four-game skid.
As for Bishop, he’s just happy to not have to be on the shutout watch anymore.
“The guys kept telling me, you got it tonight,” said Bishop. “It was nice. Everybody was really trying to protect me in that last five minutes. It took a while to get this. Tonight, I was just trying to stay big. I had a meeting with Coach [Whitehead] yesterday and we went over a lot of stuff. I just tried to stay in control.”
“This is great for him,” said Shepheard. “He’s got a big smile on his face and rightfully so. He’s had a lot of great games for us, some tough one-goal games. We’re really happy for him.”
On the other end of the ice, Sims recorded the loss after making 21 saves.
Maine returns to the ice Wednesday in exhibition game against New Brunswick, while the Friars are set to play Boston University next Friday.