It was a perfect Seniors Night for University of Maine men’s hockey captain Mitch Fossier. He can thank junior goalie Jeremy Swayman for giving him the opportunity to create a memory he will never forget.
In front of a sellout crowd of 5,050, Swayman made 48 saves, including two breakaways, and Fossier scored the game’s only goal with 10:39 left in regulation as the Black Bears edged Providence College 1-0 to earn the fourth seed and home ice for next weekend’s Hockey East quarterfinals.
UMaine hosts the fifth-seeded University of Connecticut at 7 p.m. Friday to open the best-of-three series.
UMaine (18-11-5) wound up 12-9-3 in Hockey East. Providence finished the regular season at 16-12-6 and 10-11-3, respectively, and will travel to play top seed Boston College next weekend.
UMass Lowell gave the Black Bears the help they needed by beating UConn 3-1 Friday night, enabling UMaine to leapfrog UConn (15-15-4, 12-10-2) in the standings.
Swayman, who has three shutouts in his last five games and leads the country with 1,099 saves, made 21 saves in the third period including 10 in the first 2:24. He stopped three in rapid succession in the first minute of the final period.
“He’s the best player in college hockey,” said a grateful Fossier.
“I couldn’t have scripted it any better for our team, the way we played and the chances we had,” said Providence coach Nate Leaman. “We just couldn’t solve Swayman. Hats off to him. He has my vote for goalie of the year. That’s the best performance I’ve seen in net all year.”
“I saw the puck well tonight. The guys in front did a great job keeping pucks to the outside and not letting them get to rebounds,” said Swayman, a fourth-round pick (111th overall) of the Boston Bruins. “They gave me good looks at the puck. I was so proud of the boys tonight.”
Fossier’s game-winner came during a 4-on-4 situation with linemate and fellow senior Tim Doherty and junior defenseman J.D. Greenway setting him up.
Greenway won a puck battle in the corner and slid it to the half-wall to Doherty. He found Fossier wide open in the middle of the slot and put the pass on Fossier’s stick.
Fossier sailed a 20-foot wrist shot over the blocker of Michael Lackey (23 saves).
“[Providence] lost me for a second,” Fossier said. “They like to swarm the puck. If you get puck-focused in a 4-on-4, someone is bound to be open. Tim made a great pass. One of their defensemen came out at me, another guy was coming back to the net. They both tried to block [the shot] it so I tried to shoot it between them and it found a hole.”
Fossier said the play began off a defensive zone faceoff with Doherty hounding a Friar into a turnover and then Greenway making a play to Doherty off the forecheck.
Moments after the goal, Swayman extended his left pad to stop a breakaway by 15-goal scorer Greg Printz.
“He moved it from his forehand to his backhand and took the puck wide. I slid over and took away the angle,” Swayman said.
Early in the second period, he got his right shoulder on Albin Nilsson’s breakaway and, with 5.8 seconds left in the period, he robbed Luke Johnson with his glove after Johnson pounced on a rebound in the middle of the slot.
“It was a quick, bang-bang play and I tried to get an angle on it. It feels good to finish the period off that way,” said Swayman, an Anchorage, Alaska native.
The Friars had the better of the play throughout the game, spending much more time in UMaine’s zone than the Black Bears did in theirs.
UMaine head coach Red Gendron said it was special to be able to not only get the win for the six seniors but to also have it earn them a home-ice berth for the playoffs. UMaine was picked eighth in the preseason coaches’ poll.
“We didn’t play particularly well but the guys stuck with it and that has been a trademark of this team,” Gendron said. “They kept fighting and fighting and found a way to win.”
“We were all playing for the seniors tonight,” Greenway said of Fossier, Doherty, Patrick Shea, Ryan Smith, Sam Rennaker and Stephen Mundinger.
“I feel so thankful,” said Fossier. “I’ve had so many unbelievable memories here. I’ve received a lot of great passes like Tim’s tonight and I’ve had some good fortune.”