ORONO, Maine — Around the Maine locker room, junior defenseman Bret Tyler is known as “The Doze.”
Last night, however, “The Doze” became superman.
With his team falling fast in the Hockey East standings and desperately in need of a win, Tyler rescued his squad Saturday night with a sensational play that capped off Maine’s 2-1 overtime victory over Northeastern.
On the play, which ended an at-times frustrating and exhilarating contest, Tyler picked up a loose puck on the boards and proceeded to snake in on netminder Brad Thiessen only to dish a perfect pass to Teddy Purcell for the game winner with 43 seconds remaining in the extra
“[Assistant coach Guy Perron] just told me to jump over the boards, so I jumped out there and the puck rimmed around,” said Tyler. “I got it and I faked the shot. The guy kind of skated by me, so I walked around him and I had a lane to the net.
Then I looked up and saw Teddy Ballgame. If you want the puck on anyone’s stick at the end of the game it’s going to him. I saw him and my eyes light up.”
For the sixth-ranked Black Bears [16-7-2, 9-7-1] the play was one they’ve come to anticipate from Tyler, who appears to have ice-water in his veins.
“He’s just a hell of a player, there’s no other way to say it,” said head coach Tim Whitehead. “I don’t know anyone who sees the game better than Bret Tyler. He is just one of those guys you see play hockey and you know he was born to play hockey.”
At a time when the Black Bears had lost four of their last five and three straight at home, Tyler, who had two assists on the night, took the game into his own hands.
“He’s such an elite player and with elite players they have such poise and patience with the puck,” said Purcell. “We always say to give Doze the rock and we did tonight and he made a great play like he usually does. I was just fortunate enough to be on the other end of it.”
According to Purcell, the minute Tyler snagged the puck he knew where he had to go.
“I just went to the net and I know Doze has great vision from the point,” said Purcell. “He made a great play to drag everyone in and he just slides it over to me. You have to give all the credit to him. Anyone could’ve scored that goal but it’s definitely a nice feeling in front of my family and friends in a game we need.”
The gutsy victory allowed Maine to remain three points above Northeastern in the conference standings. After Friday’s surprising 6-1 upset of Maine, Northeastern [9-12-4] had crawled to with-in one point of the Black Bears for sixth place in the league.
The Black Bears while holding an impressive ranking of sixth in the country were a shocking sixth place in their own league, good enough for a road trip in the Hockey East quarterfinals. With a mammoth road trip looming next weekend against archenemy New Hampshire, the Black Bears needed to stand up and take control of their season.
“Going into UNH we wanted to show the league that we meant business and wanted to earn some respect back because we had been falling apart,” said Tyler.
Still, the Black Bears have a ways to go before they completely earn back the respect of their fans believes Whitehead.
“As I told the guys after, that is just one step for us,” said Whitehead. “We still have a long way to go before we earn back that respect from some of our fans here. But what a great first step. You want to take a great first step and we did that.
Hopefully the next time we are at home we can continue to build on that success.”
Friday’s loss pushed Maine to a .500 record at home; a figure that was once thought to be unfathomable in Alfond Arena in late January.
“I think this is the first step to returning to what we were but we have to take it one step at a time,” said Purcell. “It’s not going to happen over night. However it was a nice step, our backs were against the wall, we didn’t want to get swept again for the second week at home in a row.”
Trailing by one for more than half of the decision, Maine managed to finally break through on the power play at 18:41 of the second period. After failing to score in over 20 straight appearances on the power play, the Black Bears once again found solace in the play of Tyler. Camped out at the top of point Tyler received a pass from Keenan Hopson along the boards and proceeded to rifle the puck on net.
“Keenan [Hopson] just made a good pass over to me and somehow I just one-timed it on net,” said Tyler. “Billy [Ryan] and Soares just did an unbelievable job beating the guys out of the corner and Billy got the deflection over the guys glove.”
Moments after watching the puck fly into the back of the mesh, a pumped up Ryan attempted to shake up his teammates.
“Usually I’m scoring the seventh or eighth goal, but finally I got a big goal,” said Ryan. “I just felt like I needed to get the team jacked up. It felt good to get that off our backs and to be back in the game.”
Maine captain Michel Leveille earned special kudos on the play after drawing the penalty by taking a punch to head by Jacques Perreault.
“The big thing we talked about entering the game was not getting down if we were losing by one,” said Maine forward Rob Bellamy. “Today when we went down we were alright. That goal really kicked started us. Lev’s shown real disciple to take that punch to the head and generate that goal.”
Upon scoring the goal it quickly became clear Maine was back to their preferred style of hockey.
“I think we stuck to our plan well,” said Purcell. “We came to the rink a lot more focused on the task at hand. We took one period at a time. It didn’t go well for us the whole 60 minutes, but we battled through it and came away with two big points.”
Despite the momentum changing goal at the end of the second, Northeastern didn’t go away. The re-energized Huskies, playing some of their best hockey in the past couple years, continued to get at netminder Ben Bishop, who finished the match with 16 saves. Yet, the attacks proved too fruitless. The lone Northeastern tally remained Chad Costello’s 3-on-1 score at 17:38 of the first period.
“The longer the game went the better we played, which is obviously a good sign,” said Whitehead. “It’s just nice to see the guys play hard again and keep the game simple. It’s always great to win a game in OT at home, there’s nothing quite like that feeling.”
The “do-or-die” game for Maine saw them finally conquer Thiessen, 31 saves, after he had given them fits all weekend. Northeastern will take their two points from Orono and move on to compete against Merrimack Friday.
“This game was a must win and we came out on top,” said Ryan. “We just want to thank all the fans for sticking by us.”
Now with UNH in Maine’s immediate future, the Black Bears are ready to use this victory as a spring board.
“This is huge confidence is a huge part of hockey and right now after that win our confidence is sky high,” said Ryan. “We just have to keep on building from this win. Personally I think this is a turning point in our season, not just tonight’s win but to build off Friday’s loss.