University of Maine men’s hockey coach Red Gendron would have liked to have won the Florida College Classic on Sunday night but believes his team’s 1-1 overtime tie with Cornell and ultimate loss in the shootout had plenty of positives.
The game will go into the books as a tie since they played the standard five-minute overtime before going to the shootout rather than playing until someone scores, which is done in postseason. Cornell won the shootout 2-1, although it took nine rounds to finish it.
“We played really well. Cornell has a great team. It was an unbelievable college hockey game. The guys really battled hard,” said Gendron. “But we aren’t happy unless we win. If we could have made a few more plays, we would have won.”
Gendron’s primary source of satisfaction with his team comes from its defense.
Maine has now allowed just five goals in its last five games and 12 in its last nine games, excluding the two empty-net goals surrendered in the 5-2 loss at Vermont on Nov. 30.
The Black Bears are tied for fourth in the nation in goals-against with Providence College and St. Cloud State. Maine has given up an average of two goals per game.
And senior goalie Martin Ouellette continues to climb in the national goalie rankings. He is tied for the lead in shutouts with three, his 1.87 goals-against average is sixth and his .937 save percentage is seventh.
Gendron said his team has received exceptional goaltending from Ouellette and the players are doing a better job of blocking shots, protecting the front of their net, hustling on the backcheck, using their sticks efficiently and making sure their men are covered.
“And the defensemen are doing a better job gapping,” said Gendron, referring to the fact that his defensemen are positioning themselves so the opposing forwards don’t have much time and space with the puck before being confronted.
“The guys played well defensively in both games in this tournament. We’re happy with the way we played defensively,” said Ouellette. “That is huge for us.”
Ouellette has been pleased with the way he has played.
“I’ve got to keep it going. I’ve got to give the guys a chance to win every night,” said Ouellette.
Ouellette, who made 35 saves against Cornell and 33 in a 4-0 shutout win over Princeton on Saturday, was chosen to the All-Tournament team along with sophomore center Devin Shore.
Shore had Maine’s lone goal in regulation and also had the Bears’ only goal in the shootout after picking up a pair of assists in the victory over Princeton.
Shore extended his points streak to nine games with his second-period goal (7 goals, 10 assists).
Shore said he doesn’t keep track of his statistics but did acknowledge that having a nine-game points streak is “cool.”
“It’s always nice to help the team out,” he said.
But Shore was disturbed that Cornell’s tying goal, which came in the third period and was awarded to Dustin Mowrey, actually came off his stick.
“I tried to clear it out in the heat of the moment, but it wound up going in off my stick,” said Shore. “It was a bang-bang play. It was a tough bounce. I’d like to have that one back.”
Shore felt particularly bad for Ouellette.
“He had an unbelievable tournament and the only goal he allowed was off my stick,” said Shore.
Shore, who has a team-high eight goals and 14 assists, is 19th in the country in points per game (1.22) and 18th in assists per game (0.78).
“Devin is shooting the puck a lot more; he’s doing a better job going wide on defensemen and he’s playing with confidence,” said Gendron.
Linemate Connor Leen is tied for 19th in assists per game with 0.76.
Since Steven Swavely was moved to the line with Leen and Shore, they have combined for six goals and 16 assists in five games.
“It’s a good mix. We mesh well together. We get along well on and off the ice,” said Shore. “We have to keep playing well and leading by example on both sides of the puck.”
Maine will begin a gruelling January schedule by visiting No. 8 Quinnipiac in Hamden, Conn., on Friday night. Quinnipiac, which was 30-8-5 a year ago and lost to Yale 4-0 in the NCAA title game, took a 13-3-4 record into a Monday night game against Sacred Heart.
Gendron said he is unsure of the availability of freshman right wing Blaine Byron and senior defenseman and captain Brice O’Connor.
Byron got hurt in a game against Princeton and didn’t play against Cornell, and O’Connor suffered an injury early in the Cornell game and didn’t return.
Gendron would not disclose the nature of the injuries.
The Black Bears have climbed to 14th in the Pairwise Rankings, which emulate the criteria used by the NCAA to choose the at-large teams to the NCAA Tournament.