ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine’s men’s hockey won just two home games a year ago.
They already have one this season.
Junior center Stu Higgins notched his first career two-goal game, junior left wing Connor Leen set up both of them and senior goalie Martin Ouellette made 24 saves as the Black Bears edged Bentley University (Mass.) 2-1 Saturday night at Alfond Arena.
Maine improved to 1-2 while Bentley fell to 1-3.
Higgins, making his debut after missing the St. Lawrence series with a groin pull, staked Maine to a short-lived lead 2:20 into the game but Andrew Gladiuk, the Atlantic Hockey Rookie of the Year last season, answered just 1:34 later.
Higgins scored the game-winner 6:13 into the second period and the Bears killed off seven Bentley power plays, including a pair of five-on-threes in that second period spanning 1:01 and 26 seconds, respectively.
“We didn’t want to wait until February to get our first win at home like we did last year,” said Ouellette, referring to the fact Maine was 0-8-4 at Alfond Arena last season until it beat UMass Lowell 4-3.
“The penalty-killing was great,” said Maine coach Red Gendron. “I don’t know what else you can say about it. They played the system perfectly. They made some great clears including at the end of the game when they had a six-on-four. I don’t think they came close to scoring on that.
“Bentley could have climbed back to tie the game on that and maybe they could have won it,” added Gendron.
Maine was shorthanded for 1:39 after a four-on-four became a Bentley power play with 1:46 remaining. Bentley goalie Branden Komm was pulled in favor of the extra attacker but the Falcons couldn’t generate a good scoring chance.
“We played pretty well. We didn’t play a full 60 minutes but, for the most part, we executed the way we wanted to,” said Higgins. “We were very good on the penalty kill tonight. We wore down their top scorers throughout the game by taking the body on them every chance we could.”
Maine held a 20-5 edge in shots on goal in the first period but Komm was superb, making 12 Grade-A (high-percentage) saves to keep the Falcons level.
Higgins opened the scoring at the 2:20 mark when Leen stole an errant Falcon pass in the right circle and made a quick pass to the far post where Higgins’ one-timer beat Komm.
“Jon Swavely put on a great forecheck and they coughed it up. (Leen) made a good pass and I buried it,” said Higgins.
“I thought I got across quick enough but (Higgins) placed his shot in a good spot,” said Komm.
Gladiuk equalized off a faceoff to the right of Ouellette.
The puck pinballed in the left circle before Gladiuk snapped a short wrister that glanced in off Ouellette’s mask.
Bentley outshot Maine 15-6 in the second period thanks to those five-on-threes but Ouellette was razor-sharp, making nine Grade-A stops among his 15.
Higgins scored on a quickly-constructed three-on-two off a neutral zone turnover.
Leen gave him a backhand drop pass in the middle of the ice and Higgins took a few strides before beating Komm with a wrister to the blocker side.
“They turned the puck over. (Jake) Rutt batted the puck up. It took a funny bounce and their defenseman stepped up. I was able to chip it through him and Stu was trailing behind. I heard him and I gave him a nice little drop pass. He made a great shot,” said Leen.
“I put it low blocker side,” said Higgins.
“That’s one I wanted back,” said Kromm. “I went out and I thought I was on my angle. But he put it to the side of my blocker. It was a great shot.”
“Stu had a great night,” said Leen.
Ouellette finished with 15 Grade-A saves among his 24.
“He was on top of his game,” said Komm.
“We were right there. We were just one bounce away against a great team,” added Komm who had 27 Grade-A stops among his 33.
Gendron felt Ouellette turned in a “terrific” performance but he felt differently about his team’s 0-for-7 power play, including a five-on-three squander.
“It was awful. Our five-on-three was as bad as I’ve seen in a while,” said Gendron.
But he was happy to get the win in front of a crowd of 4,569 that he called “phenomenal.
“The compete level was high all night and if we had been a little bit better on the power play or did a little better finishing our chances, we might have had an easier victory. But we didn’t,” said Gendron.