ORONO, Maine — University of Maine men’s hockey goalie Dan Sullivan is ranked 43rd in the nation in goals-against average at 2.71. The sophomore is 53rd in save percentage at .903.
But his coaches and teammates don’t care because he has the nation’s sixth-best winning percentage at .717.
He is 15-5-3 for the surging Black Bears, who are ranked 12th in the country (at 16-8-3), have the nation’s second-longest unbeaten streak (6-0-1) and are 13-2-2 over their last 17 games.
“He has been very consistent,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “He hasn’t been giving up any soft goals and he has made timely stops.”
In a 4-2 win over Boston University on Jan. 27, he stopped an Adam Clendening breakaway and, with a BU player on top of him, made a desperate reach to rob Cashon Hohmann on his wraparound attempt. In Friday’s 4-3 overtime win over Alabama-Huntsville, even though he made only eight saves, his eighth save came on a wrist shot from the middle of the low slot off Mac Roy with just 12 seconds left in regulation.
“He has made some real big saves at big times,” said senior defenseman and co-captain Will O’Neill. “He wins. That’s why we have so much faith in him. He’s doing his part to help us win games. He works his tail off. He deserves what he’s getting.”
“He has made some saves this year that have kept us in games and that enables us to play with more confidence in front of him,” said sophomore defenseman Brice O’Connor.
“It’s a matter of being in the moment. I just focus on making the next save. If it happens to be a game-saver, so be it,” said Sullivan.
Sullivan followed up his Friday night victory over Alabama-Huntsville with his first shutout of the season Saturday in a 5-0 triumph, also over the Chargers. He made 20 saves.
“He played real well. That shows you quite a bit about his character that he was able to come back with a shutout after Friday night’s game,” said Chargers goalie Clarke Saunders.
“It’s nice to win,” said Sullivan. “Winning is the most important [statistic]. It would obviously be nice to be at the top in those other [statistics]. They’re all related but, at the end of the day, they don’t ask how [you played], they ask how many [wins].”
“I’d obviously like to give up the fewest goals possible,” added Sullivan.
The players say the biggest change in Sullivan from last year to this year is his confidence.
He set the Maine record for consecutive shutout minutes (202:48) last year, but he struggled down the stretch and finished with a 10-7-2 record, a 2.73 GAA and an .890 save percentage.
“His [increased] confidence is his big thing,” said Maine senior left wing and assistant captain Spencer Abbott. “He has always been a real sound goalie, positionally. There was a lot of pressure on him last year, but he has finally overcome that.”
And it’s visible.
“You can tell by the way he acts. He’s a lot more confident in net and around the dressing room,” said Abbott. “He has been the backbone of our team.”
“When we’ve gone through some tough stretches [during the course of a game] and we’ve needed him the most, he’s been there for us. He has bailed us out,” said senior center and co-captain Brian Flynn.
“The mental part of the game is the most important factor for any goaltender — you’re overall approach,” said Sullivan. “Technically, I think I’ve gotten a little bit faster. I definitely need to work on my feet and my puck handling. There are some other things I need to work on.”
“My rebound control is better, but that’s something goalies are always working on up until the NHL level,” added the 6-foot-2, 185-pound native of York, Pa. “I’m nowhere near where I want to be [in that area] right now. It’s one of those things I’m working on constantly.”
Sullivan, who has started 19 consecutive games, is just as impressive off the ice.
He had a 4.0 GPA in business last semester and plays the violin and saxophone.
Diamond, Shemansky status uncertain
The status of Maine junior right winger Joey Diamond and junior left winger Adam Shemansky is uncertain, according to Whitehead.
Diamond, Maine’s leading goal scorer with 17 to go with 13 assists, missed the Alabama-Huntsville series because of a hip flexor injury. Shemansky (9 goals, 6 assists) suffered a head injury Saturday night but passed the concussion test, according to Whitehead.
Shemansky was sidelined by a concussion last season.
However, Whitehead said both players are sick and won’t practice for a few days.
Flynn getting physical
Flynn is known as a prolific point-producer, but he has started to throw his weight around, too.
The winner of Hockey East’s Len Ceglarski Sportsmanship Award a year ago landed four solid body checks in the Saturday night win over Alabama-Huntsville.
“I think that’s a career high,” grinned Flynn. “We hadn’t played the body at all the previous night. I felt some of their guys were taking runs at some of our guys, and one of their players tried to take [Abbott’s] head off. I can’t stand for that.”
“He’s trying to shake off that Lady Byng Award he won last year,” joked O’Neill.
The Lady Byng is the NHL’s sportsmanship award.
“I’m not sure I want that two years in a row,” said Flynn with a smile.
Flynn, who has 31 penalty minutes in 27 games after collecting 30 in his previous 113 over his first three seasons, said, “We have a smaller team and this is the first time I see myself as one of the bigger forwards on a hockey team.”
“Teams try to play physical with us. They try to play physical with our line [including Abbott and Joey Diamond]. You can’t take it all night and not give it back,” said the 6-1, 185-pound Flynn.
Flynn now has 146 career points (65 goals, 81 assists), which ties him with former Maine assistant Guy Perron for 16th place on the school’s all-time scoring list.
“He’s a competitor. He’s a guy I wouldn’t want to play against,” said O’Neill.
“He’s pretty physical,” said Whitehead. “He finishes his checks and can land a heavy hit, too. When you have a captain finishing checks in a 5-0 game, you know you’ve got a good leader. He has done a great job for us. He’s a very complete player.”
Chargers enjoyed Alfond
The Alabama-Huntsville players enjoyed playing at the Alfond Arena.
“They have great fans. They’re like a sixth man for them,” said junior left wing and assistant captain Sebastien Geoffrion. “I loved it. It was a lot of fun.”
“It was an unbelievable atmosphere. They didn’t make it easy on us, but it was fun,” said junior defenseman and captain Curtis deBruyn.
They also were impressed with the Black Bears. The Chargers have played a number of top-20 teams, including Minnesota-Duluth, which was ranked No. 1 last week.
“Maine is certainly up there [with the top teams in the country],” said Saunders. “There are some skilled guys. They’re a good team top to bottom.”
“Their record [16-8-3] shows you what kind of skill they have,” said deBruyn. “They’re fast and they have a lot of skill on their top line.”