On paper, it was a mismatch – Hockey East’s top team against the league’s cellar-dweller.
Maine flipped that mismatch on its head, however, in defeating third-ranked Boston College 4-1.
In pulling off the upset, Maine spoiled the return of BC coach Jerry York to the bench after missing four games while recuperating from surgery for a detached retina.
Martin Ouellette stopped 34 of 35 shots including all 20 in the second period when BC threatened on three power plays. He also benefited from a goaltender’s best friend, the pipes behind him, as the Eagles twice clanged iron.
The Black Bears, who hadn’t scored more than two goals in 20 of 23 games this year, took a 2-0 first-period lead, expanded it to 3-0 in the second, and after BC closed the gap to 3-1 in the third, added an empty-netter for the final margin.
“Frankly, we got some puck luck, which we perhaps haven’t had a lot of,” Maine coach Tim Whitehead said. “It could have been very different if we hadn’t had some of those bounces.
“Marty [Ouellette] was fabulous. A lot of guys made some key blocks. Any time we didn’t make the block, Marty was able to bail us out.”
York expressed frustration with having to sit out the four games and said that he still couldn’t see out of his right eye, but expected that it would get better over time. Still, he couldn’t have liked what he saw in the opening period.
Joey Diamond scored 3:11 into the game from the goal line when he faked a backdoor pass, prompting BC goaltender Parker Milner to move. Diamond then shot short side for the goal, his eighth in 13 career games against BC.
The Eagles faltered defensively in the final minute of the first and Maine capitalized. Bill Norman shot from the point and Ryan Lomberg tucked the rebound around Milner and in.
In the second period, the Eagles generated 20 shots, nine on their three power plays, but couldn’t solve Ouellette. Instead, Maine extended the lead to 3-0 when Jon Swavely got the puck from behind the net to Will Merchant in front where the freshman put it away. It was Merchant’s second goal, the first also coming against BC earlier this season.
“When we got that third goal, we had momentum going into the third,” Diamond said. “That was a big point in the game for us. We were able to hold on and keep playing our game.”
BC narrowed the margin to 3-1 on a Steven Whitney power-play goal at 13:06, but even with another man-advantage soon after and a minute of six-on-five play with Milner pulled with a little under two minutes remaining, the Eagles couldn’t solve Ouellette and the Maine defenders.
Kyle Beattie iced the game at 19:11 with a shot from the right point into the empty net.
“I thought we could claw back in it, but we just couldn’t get close enough,” York said. “They were sticky on defense and they have some guys who can handle the puck very well. We were chasing pucks and reaching for pucks tonight.”
He dismissed the notion that his team could have taken the last-place Black Bears lightly, opting to give credit to the victors.
“They competed very hard,” York said. “Ouellette played strong in goal. They were a difficult team for us to play tonight. They defended really well, on the PK especially. They deserved to win tonight.
“It’s an indication of the league. It’s hard to separate yourself from the other teams. For us to separate ourselves, we’re going to have to play better hockey.”