ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Five of Maine’s last six games have come against Massachusetts, and the Minutemen won the first four. But the Black Bears were missing a key ingredient in those games: Big Ben. Goaltender Ben Bishop missed all four due to a groin injury that kept him sidelined for almost a month.
But the 6-foot-7 sophomore was in net Saturday, making 35 saves and leading Maine to a 3-1 victory and a trip to the Frozen Four.
Bishop’s counterpart, UMass goaltender Jon Quick, came up big several times in the first period to keep the game scoreless after one. Maine outshot the Minutemen 13-5 in the first stanza, with Quick’s closest call coming about two minutes into the game when David De Kastrozza’s wrist shot clanged off the post.
“I think their experience was a factor,” said UMass coach Don Cahoon. “They played like a team that has been in this position many times before, the way they came out of the gate.
“No question that Jon made some good saves and he’ll be the first to tell you that he wasn’t as sharp as he can be, but he’s so athletic that he was able to make the saves and keep us in the game.”
Maine finally broke through at 5:23 of the second period. With the teams skating four-on-four, Bret Tyler got a pass from Josh Soares and took a wrist shot that Quick stopped. But the rebound went off the leg of UMass defenseman Mike Kostka and came right back onto Tyler’s stick, and he buried his chance to make it 1-0 Maine.
The Black Bears struck again on the power play at 9:45. Mike Hamilton took the puck behind the UMass net, skated to the post and put a backhander off Quick’s shoulder and into the net.
“If he’s trying to bank that shot, it’s a brilliant play,” said Cahoon. “Otherwise it’s a lucky shot.”
“It was pretty lucky,” Hamilton acknowledged. “I just kind of threw it at [Quick], and it bounced off his head or something. He’s a hot goaltender and that’s the kind of thing you need to do.”
The Minutemen got on the board late in the second period with a power-play goal of their own. Matt Anderson’s wrist shot from the slot beat Bishop though a partial screen, and UMass had cut the lead to one.
The backbreaker came at 6:28 of the third period. With Maine on a five-on-three power play, Bret Tyler set up Matt Duffy at the point. His slap shot beat Quick glove side to make it 3-1.
“It’s a game of momentum and that third goal really hurt,” said Anderson. “Going into the third period I thought we had some momentum, but the third goal was a big momentum shift.”
It was Maine’s second power-play goal of the game. The Black Bears were 2-for-8 with the man advantage, while UMass was 1-for-7.
“When you look at the way the game evolved, it was uncharacteristic of us,” said Cahoon. “We were one of the least-penalized teams in the country, and the least-penalized team in our league. We took way too many penalties and gave them too many power plays.”
Things got interesting when Maine took an interference penalty with 1:29 to go. UMass pulled Quick and had several good chances, the biggest ended by a glove save by Bishop off the stick of Chris Capraro with 37.2 seconds to go.
How big was the Bishop factor?
“Like in football, if your number-one quarterback comes back in the huddle, it gives your guys a lift,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead, who also praised freshman goaltender Dave Wilson, who started in place of Bishop while he was injured.
“I have confidence in David,” he said. “He’s gained some confidence and valuable experience and if he’s needed in St. Louis. He’ll do a good job.”
“I was almost pain-free,” said Bishop. “I felt good. Now I have another two weeks (to rest).”
UMass’ Anderson said that his team wasn’t concerned with who was in net for the Black Bears.
“It’s about us,” he said. “It’s about the guys in the room. About each other. Not about a player on the other team, but about the 30 guys on our team.”
For Big Ben, the weekend after next will be a homecoming. The St. Louis native gets to play in front of a home town crowd. His father is on the committee that brought the Frozen Four to St. Louis.
“It feels good getting back to St. Louis,” said Bishop. “They’ve done a lot of hard work to make this a special event.”
And Bishop and Maine will try to do their part as well.