ORONO, Maine — At noon Friday, Maine freshman Dave Wilson learned his fate: he would make his first career start for the seventh ranked Black Bears against No. 14 Vermont in less than eight hours.
After nearly six days of speculation, Maine head coach Tim Whitehead delivered the news to Wilson, who had only appeared in six games so far this year in what could be described nicely as mop-up time.
With a 4.47 goals against average and .821 save percentage, Wilson was getting his Hockey East introduction in arguably both team’s biggest series yet.
How’d he handle it? Not too bad.
Aided by two power play tallies from assistant captain Mike Lundin, Wilson collected his first collegiate victory Friday with a decisive 5-1 whipping of the Catamounts. In a performance that saw him register 32 saves, while the offense recorded four power play scores against the best penalty kill in the nation, Wilson helped his Black Bears move into fifth place overall in the Hockey East Standings.
“We ‘re really happy for David [Wilson] and proud of him,” said Whitehead. “His performance was no accident. He’s really been training much better. He’s been practicing better. Executing little things better on and off the ice.”
While most freshman would appear nervous and shaky in their first home start in the thick of the Hockey East schedule, Wilson appeared confident and relaxed. The confidence shined throughout with the Toronto native carrying a shutout 51 minutes into
the decision before another freshman Jay Anctil netted his first collegiate mark to screw up the goose egg.
“Right from the beginning I just felt real confident,” said Wilson. “I felt confident actually this morning when we were doing our pregame skate. The crowd got behind me and it was just incredible. I would say this ranks right up there with the top moments in my hockey career. It was real emotional.”
Wilson admitted it was a tad bit difficult not thinking about earning the shutout in his first start.
“It was hard not to think about it,” said Wilson. “I came out in the third and all I wanted to do was keep them off the board as long as possible. They we’re just trying gain as much momentum as possible. As soon they scored, I knew I could relax and focus on the next shot and the shot after that.”
All week, Wilson was dealt with the added stress of guessing whether he would be between the pipes or not. Still the task of replacing Bishop, who had started 41 straight games for the Black Bears, was something that didn’t worry the easy-going netminder he just wanted to be prepared.
“I had to focus last night,” said Wilson. “I had to get to bed early which was kind of tough because I couldn’t sleep. All through classes [Friday] all I thought about was hockey. There were butterflies in my stomach all day.”
Although Wilson’s performance was remarkable it wasn’t the only story of note on the night. On any other night, Lundin’s two tally match after being out of practice the whole week would’ve stolen the limelight. Or how about the four power play scores against the best penalty kill in the nation?
“I started getting a fever last weekend against UNH and those were two hard games, so it kind of killed my body,” said Lundin. “I got a bad virus that started Saturday and Sunday through Yesterday I was barely out of bed I had a terrible throat and fever.”
“Today I wake up and could actually get some stuff done. I lost about 10 pounds this week.”
At 7:57 of the second period it appeared Lundin had fully shaken his virus when he smacked home his fifth goal of the year on the power play. However, he wasn’t done. Only two minutes later at 9:40, he wristed another shot past Vermont goalie Joe Fallon.
“Unbelievable,” said Whitehead. “Hopefully the other guys don’t get the idea that they can miss practice all week and expect to score two goals.”
The goals sparked a five minute period stretch where the squad pilfered the Catamounts net three times on the power play. The last two goals came off a hitting from behind penalty by future NHLer Viktor Stalberg.
“We had good movement on the power play so that helped us a lot,” said Whitehead. “We kept switching lanes and opening up some shots. They are so good at blocking shots so we were very determined to find ways to get the puck through.”
Officially Mike Hamilton capped off the Black Bears red-hot offense attack with a deflection off a Ted Purcell. The goal coming at 11:56 was the team’s fourth special teams mark.
“I think we just managed to get shots through,” said Lundin. “Their penalty kill has shut us down every time we’ve played them the last couple of years. We were focusing on getting our shots through from the start.”
Whitehead had high praise for Lundin saying his crucial in the team’s effort Friday.
“I didn’t know how much energy he had in the tank,” said Whitehead. “What we needed him to do was give us the short shift on five-on-five and give us the power play and penalty kill shifts and he did that. That was a big boast for us.”
The outburst of power play goals, which also included Keenan Hopson’s eventual game-winning tally at 3:47 of the second, was clearly a aspect of the decision that caught Vermont head coach Kevin Sneddon off-guard.
“We played some pretty good hockey five-on-five tonight, unfortunately we just picked a bad night to stink the joint up on our special teams,” said Sneddon. “Our penalty kill did not execute our game plan at all. We left a lot of open seams for them to shoot and they shot the puck pretty well tonight.”
“You can’t give a player like Lundin or Leveille or any of them on the power play a shooting lane,” said Sneddon.
Josh Soares found the board first for the Black Bears at 16:41 of the first period after he broke in from center ice and roofed a puck by Fallon glove-side.
“I think we got some puck luck [Friday], but it seems like a while since we got some of that,” said Whitehead. “That was a good feeling getting that back and I think it gave the guys some confidence oddly enough.”
With the defeat, Vermont allowed Maine to creep even closer to them in the Hockey East standings. The Black Bears are now two points from surmounting Vermont in the race for home-ice.
“It was good team effort still it’s only one of two,” said Whitehead. “The series is tied now and we want to win this series. [Saturday] we will have to bring our best effort.”
Maine and Vermont finish their season series tonight at 8 p.m. The game can be seen on CSTV.