ORONO, Maine — This season has certainly had its share of frustrations for University of Maine men’s hockey goalie Shawn Sirman.
The previous highlight for the freshman had been a 4-0 exhibition win over the U.S. National Team Development Program’s Under-18 squad on Jan. 23. He made 33 saves.
The last time he played in a regular-season game was on Feb. 12 when he replaced Scott Darling at the outset of the third period against Boston University, and he allowed three goals on seven shots before suffering a concussion.
But his 24-save performance in Saturday night’s 5-1 win over Merrimack that included three breakaway stops couldn’t have come at a better time. It all but clinched a top-four finish and a home-ice playoff berth for the Black Bears, who were picked to finish eighth in the coaches’ preseason poll. It also kept the Bears’ NCAA Tournament hopes alive.
The only way Maine will finish fifth is if the Bears are swept by Massachusetts at home this weekend, UMass Lowell sweeps visiting Vermont and Boston University sweeps archrival Northeastern in a home-and-home series.
Maine had gone 0-3-1 in its previous four road games.
Sirman entered the Merrimack game with forgettable statistics: an 0-5 record, a 5.94 goals-against average and an .823 save percentage. He had played just half of a period over the past nine games.
But Darling’s slump opened the door for Sirman.
“It’s awesome getting that first win under my belt,” said Sirman. “I was pretty nervous going into the third period. But that takes a lot of pressure off my shoulders.”
He was named the Hockey East Rookie of the Week.
“That’s pretty exciting,” said Sirman. “I felt great this weekend.”
The one aspect of his game that has been troublesome for him is making second and third saves after the initial stop.
“I’ve had a lot of trouble following the puck [after making the first save],” said Sirman. “I’m at my best when I’m calm, and I’ve been working on being calm and following the puck right away.”
He also intends to make sure he doesn’t get caught too deep in his crease.
“They hit the post a couple of times in the first period, so I might have been too deep in my crease,” said Sirman, who will start Friday against UMass.
Maine coach Tim Whitehead said Sirman’s first save off a Chris Barton breakaway “gave our whole bench a lift and inspired them to play that much harder because of his performance.”
Maine also received a healthy contribution over the weekend from speedy freshman center Matt Mangene, who had missed the previous eight games with a ruptured muscle in his right arm.
He returned in Friday’s 6-3 loss at Merrimack.
“It felt great to get back out there and contribute,” said Mangene, who helped the Bears kill off all 10 Merrimack power plays in the two games including eight on Saturday.
Mangene said he had never before sustained an injury at any level that sidelined him for more than two weeks. He was out for five weeks.
“We really missed Matt in the lineup,” said Whitehead. “He brings so much to our team with his speed and tenacious defensive ability. He contributes a ton offensively as well. He generates chances and breaks the puck out [of the defensive zone]. He gave us a huge lift. He helps on the penalty kill.”
Mangene said the arm never bothered him and he was satisfied with his first two games coming off the injury.
“I was pretty happy. I could have made a couple of better plays, but after missing five weeks, I felt pretty good about it,” said Mangene.
Maine sustains two injuries
The Black Bears suffered two more injuries over the weekend.
Sophomore Kyle Solomon, who can play either wing, sustained a ruptured blood vessel in a vocal cord when he absorbed a hit that pushed the cage on his helmet into his throat. That happened early in the second period of Friday’s game. He didn’t return.
Sophomore center Theo Andersson fell awkwardly in pregame warmups Saturday night and injured his shoulder.
Whitehead said he expects Andersson to be available for Friday night’s game against UMass but he isn’t sure about Solomon’s availability.
Freshman defenseman Nick Pryor is going to undergo season-ending hip surgery this week. Senior center Brett Carrierre, who has been sidelined for eight games with a sprained medial collateral ligament, could possibly return to the lineup Saturday night, according to Whitehead.