ORONO — Chicago-based jazz singer Rebecca Sullivan belted out the national anthem before Saturday’s University of Maine-University of New Hampshire Hockey East game on Seniors Night at the Alfond Arena.
Two hours and 19 minutes later, everyone was singing the praises of her brother, Maine sophomore goalie Dan Sullivan.
Sullivan made 32 saves, including 19 of the Grade-A (high-percentage) variety, and sophomore defenseman Brice O’Connor scored the game’s only goal 10:13 into the first period as Maine edged New Hampshire to earn the fourth seed and home ice for a best-of-three Hockey East quarterfinal series against fifth seed Merrimack College beginning Friday night.
Maine finished the regular season at 20-11-3, its first 20-win season since 2006-2007. Maine was 15-10-2 in Hockey East.
UNH wound up 14-17-3 and 11-14-2, respectively. The sixth-seeded Wildcats will visit third seed Boston University for a quarterfinal series.
“(Sullivan) played great. He was a difference-maker. Both goalies played real well,” said UNH senior right wing and assistant captain Steve Moses.
O’Connor’s second career goal was a floater that nestled in the far corner past the blocker of freshman goalie Casey DeSmith.
Nick Pryor passed the puck to O’Connor at the right point and O’Connor’s wrist shot deflected off a UNH stick and knuckled into the far corner past DeSmith.
“I just tried to get the puck on net. That’s what we’ve been talking about all season long,” said O’Connor. “Nick made a nice (defenseman-to-defensman) pass and I just tried to get it off. It hit off their defenseman’s stick, went up in the air and found the back of the net. I didn’t think this would be the type of goal that would decide it but we’ll take it.”
“I didn’t pick it up until the last second and then it was too late, unfortunately,” said DeSmith. “It got lost in the stands and took a funny bounce off our forward’s stick.”
That was the only goal Sullivan was to need as he was immense.
“He played fantastic. He was a huge part of the win,” said DeSmith, who turned in an impressive 28-save performance himself including 14 Grade-A’s.
UNH carried the play in the first period but Sullivan made 10 Grade-A (high-percentage) saves to keep them at bay.
With three minutes left in the period, Trevor van Riemsdyk’s shot from the right point deflected across to Matt Willows in the middle of the slot but Sullivan flashed out his right skate to kick out Willows’ wrister.
Sullivan was the story again in the second period although it was a much more even period.
He came up with his best save of the game with 1:30 left in the period when Kevin McCarey trailed a two-on-two rush, received the puck and then slipped it through to an unattended Mike Borisenok, who sliced from left to right across the top of the crease.
Borisneok appeared to have some net available but Sullivan extended his left pad and made a tremendous stop.
“I didn’t commit when he first faked a shot so when he dragged it all the way across, I still had my edges and was able to push off (and get across). If I had gone down, he would have had an open net. I just got a piece of it,” said Sullivan
“He was pretty committed to the (near post) so I took it across the crease and tried to stuff it in but he had his pad there,” said Borisenok.
Sullivan made four Grade-A saves among his 11 in the third period to preserve the win.
It was a special night for Sullivan beginning with his sister’s rendition of the anthem.
“It was great to see her sing. She sounded so good,” said Sullivan. “It was an unbelievable experience to come out here in front of these great fans and have her sing. It was having your cake and eating it, too.
“I felt great out there. I was totally in the moment,” added Sullivan. “I was glad we were able to give our six seniors what they deserve. They’re unbelievable guys. I look up to every one of them. It was great I was able to contribute to the win for them.”
Maine’s six seniors, who were honored before and after the game, are Spencer Abbott, Brian Flynn, Ryan Hegarty, Will O’Neill, Theo Andersson and Josh Seeley.