By his own admission, University of Maine freshman goalie Dan Sullivan was disappointed in his performance 11 days ago when he returned to the lineup after missing seven games with a knee injury and allowed three goals on nine shots before being removed after just 14:41 of a 7-2 home loss to Vermont.
But he certainly made up for it this past weekend with 49 saves in back-to-back shutout wins over UMass Lowell 4-0 and 3-0 at the Tsongas Center in Lowell, Mass.
He had 21 Grade-A (high-percentage) saves among his 49.
“I wasn’t really pleased with my practices leading up to the Vermont weekend,” said Sullivan. “I was a little too tentative. I was thinking more about my knee than stopping the puck.
“I was hoping that the knee would hold up like it did but I wasn’t able to be at my best because my focus was elsewhere rather than on the game,” he added.
The practices leading up to the Lowell series were much different, he said.
“I did really well in practice and I felt confident,” said Sullivan who earned the start over sophomore Shawn Sirman, who had beaten Vermont 4-2 on the second night, because he had a better week of practice according to Maine coach Tim Whitehead.
Sullivan credited his teammates and their thorough defensive play for enabling him to collect the first back-to-back shutouts of his hockey career.
He said one of the prime examples of his team’s defensive play was a backcheck by junior left winger Brian Flynn in Saturday’s game.
“That was a phenomenal backcheck by Flynn,” said Sullivan. “They had a two-on-one and their guy (the eventual pass recipient) had several steps on Flynn. But Brian was able to catch him and lift his stick to take away the chance.”
Sullivan, fellow freshman Martin Ouellette and Sirman have all played at least 490 minutes and he knows the coaching staff has been looking for one of the three of them to emerge and win the job. He also knows how important it is to have dependable goaltending leading into the playoffs.
“You need (good) goaltending at all levels. It comes down to who has the hot goalie and who can play the best team defense (decides the playoffs),” he said. “The goals will come.”
Flynn said, “It would be nice to have one steady guy back there instead of rotating guys. Dan was very solid both nights.”
Sullivan’s back-to-back shutouts, the first at Maine since Jimmy Howard accomplished the feat on Feb. 28 and March 5, 2004, enabled him to lower his goals-against average from 3.02 to 2.55 and elevate his save percentage from .876 to .895.
“I was real proud of Dan,” said Whitehead. “He fought through a difficult knee injury to bounce back and play at his very best this past weekend. His performance wasn’t an accident. He trains extremely hard and focuses on improving every week. He had a great week of practice and it carried into the games.”
Whitehead admitted that he shouldn’t have played Sullivan against Vermont.
“I threw him a little too early. It was wishful thinking on my part. He had only three days of practice after not being on skates for a month,” he said
Linemates reach 100-point milestone
With senior center Tanner House and Flynn each reaching the career 100-point plateau, that supplies the Black Bears with a line comprised of 100-point scorers.
Junior right wing Gustav Nyquist has 131 points (47 goals, 84 assists) in 107 games; House has 101 (38 & 63) in 132 games and Flynn has 100 (47 & 53) in 107.
“It took us a little bit longer (than Nyquist) so he was chirping at us on the bench after we got it,” grinned House. “It feels good to get there. It has been fun playing with those two guys.”
That line combined for four goals and four assists over the weekend.
Over the last six games, Nyquist has nine goals and an assist; Flynn has 3 & 4 and House has seven assists.
“That’s pretty impressive,” said Whitehead. “Again, it’s no accident. They really train hard. You can’t play with that kind of consistency unless you train hard and stay focused. On top of that, they have great chemistry together.”
House and Nyquist exhibited that chemistry and received a big laugh from the crowd during the third period of Saturday night’s game.
There was a heart on the big scoreboard at center ice and a camera was panning the crowd hoping to entice couples to kiss. The kiss was shown on the scoreboard with the heart as a backdrop.
The camera focused in on the Maine bench during a stoppage in play and Nyquist and House leaned over to each other and touched facemasks to emulate a kiss.
“That was funny. We kind of like each other. It came natural,” joked Nyquist after the game.