Whenever a player is benched because they are struggling, it can be a humbling experience that further damages their confidence.
But University of Maine freshman goalie Scott Darling said he made the most of his four-game benching and it paid dividends on Saturday night as he blanked New Hampshire 1-0 with a 31-save performance.
He had been 0-4-2 in his previous six starts with a 3.77 goals-against average and .959 save percentage.
“It was a mental thing for me. I had been fighting the puck. So I tried to put everything into perspective and I think I have a handle on it now,” said Darling, who had been replaced by junior David Wilson.
Darling said he learned a lot while watching from the bench.
“I train with [UNH goalie] Brian Foster. He’s an unbelievable goalie. He’s technical. He’s a robot. I love watching him play. I learn from him,” said Darling. “I got to see [UMass’] Paul Dainton play and I learned some stuff from him. And [UMass Lowell goalie] Carter Hutton. Even David [Wilson]. I don’t get to see him play a lot.
“It was nice just to be spectating. I’d rather be on the ice but I made the most of my spectating by trying to learn from the experience,” Darling added.
Maine coach Tim Whitehead said it didn’t surprise him that Darling benefited from the situation.
“For a young player, it’s a great opportunity to learn by watching other goalies as well as his teammates,” said Whitehead. “Then he focused on getting sharper in practice and had a great game.”
“He had a couple of tough games but he bounced back great,” said Maine sophomore defenseman Jeff Dimmen.
Darling said it was an important win for him.
“It felt good to get the weight off my back. In my previous few games, I hadn’t been doing my job. I hadn’t been keeping the team in games. This felt good,” said Darling who has been working diligently with volunteer goalie coach Dave Alexander.
Darling lowered his goals-against average to 2.07, which is 12th best in the country, and he raised his goals-against average to .920. He is tied for fifth with three shutouts.
Maine is tied for 12th in the country in goals-against average at 2.36 and the Bears are tied for fourth in penalty-killing with an 89.8 percent success rate.
The Bears killed off all 13 UNH power plays over the weekend and they have killed off 41 of the past 44 over the last nine games (93.2 percent).
Whitehead said the fact they have been so successful on the penalty kill over the last nine games without the benefit of a hot goalie is a “good sign.
“It says a lot about our team defense,” said Whitehead.
Leading scorer Gustav Nyquist could be back when Maine hosts No. 1 Boston University on Friday and Saturday nights, according to Whitehead.
Freshman right wing Nyquist suffered a neck injury when he was elbowed in the head by UNH defenseman Kevin Kapstad on the game-opening face-off last Friday night. No penalty was called.
He missed Saturday’s game.
“He didn’t practice [Monday] and he won’t practice [Tuesday] but we’re hoping he can get cleared to play this weekend,” said Whitehead.
UNH fans show ingenuity
The UNH student section had a memorable sign poking fun at the arch-rival Black Bears on Friday night at the Whittemore Center in Durham, N.H.
It read “Mrs. Kariya, please send more sons. ASAP [As Soon as Possible].”
The UNH fans were referring to former Black Bear stars Paul, Steve and Marty Kariya.
Another sign read: “Bentley? Wow.” That was referring to Maine’s embarrassing 3-1 home loss to the under-funded Atlantic Hockey Association team that had never beaten a Hockey East school.
Maine fans usually have signs at Alfond Arena that read: “UNH: University of No Hardware.”
UNH has never won a national championship while Maine has won two.
UNH won the Friday night game 4-1 but the Bears gained a measure of revenge Saturday with a 1-0 triumph in Manchester, N.H.