Goaltending key in Maine's Frozen Four run
ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Ben Bishop couldn't do anything.
He couldn't play because of injury. He couldn't travel because of rehab. And he couldn't watch because there was no TV coverage.
The Maine goaltender's balky right groin, originally injured on Feb. 3 at New Hampshire and then reinjured three weeks later against Merrimack, forced him to stay in Orono and listen on the radio as his Black Bears teammates went to Amherst to face UMass on back-to-back weekends in early March.
Four games. Four losses.
There were two to end the regular season and two in the Hockey East quarterfinals.
So the Black Bears retreated to Maine to wait for the rest of college hockey to finish up conference tournament play, hoping that a season that started with so much promise -- going 8-0-1 in the first month of play and being ranked No. 1 in the nation -- wouldn't be finished.
"UMass has made us a better team," Maine coach Tim Whitehead said. "They beat us four times and really brought out a lot of our weaknesses, and they really forced us to concentrate on them in our free time."
Maine got its second chance (the team is calling it a second life) when the NCAA pairings were announced last Sunday. The Black Bears were slotted as the No. 3 seed in the East Regional, and if they could pull a first-round upset against No. 2 St. Cloud State, then they would likely face top seed Clarkson in the regional final.
Only the hockey gods had something else in mind.
Maine indeed took care of the Huskies with a convincing 4-1 win, but instead of facing the ECAC tournament champs for the right to go to the Frozen Four in St. Louis, the Black Bears would have to beat NCAA newbie UMass -- a surprise 1-0 overtime winner in Friday's first round.
And that's exactly what Maine wanted.
"They had our number the last four games," Bishop said. "They beat us all four games. When we saw that they won, it boosted us up. We really wanted to play them."
The Minutemen did beat Maine four times in March. But they didn't beat Ben Bishop. Not once.
The only time the sophomore goalie faced UMass this season was a 4-1 Maine win in October.
Until Saturday night.
With a trip to the Frozen Four in his hometown of St. Louis on the line, Bishop delivered like it was October again as he made 35 saves and anchored the Black Bears' 3-1 win over UMass in front of 3,552 at Blue Cross Arena.
"They played like a team that has been in this situation many times before," said UMass coach Don Cahoon, whose team finished 21-13-5. "We were definitely feeling the pressure and they were definitely applying it.
"We were one of the two or three least-penalized teams in the country, the least-penalized team in our league, and we took far too many penalties against a great power play. Those penalty situations came back to haunt us."
All three of Maine's goals came in special teams situations.
And the first two involved some puck luck.
During a 4-on-4 early in the second period, Maine's Bret Tyler took a centering pass from Josh Soares and fired a shot on net. UMass goalie Jon Quick made the initial save, but the rebound bounced off defenseman Mike Kostka and past Quick.
"It was pretty lucky," Hamilton said. "I just got it behind the net and their guy kind of flushed me out the one way, and I just kind of threw it toward [Quick], not knowing what would happen, and I guess it went off his head or something.
"It was a pretty fortunate bounce for me, but those were the type of goals we would get this game because Quick was riding a hot streak."
And Maine was riding a healthy Ben Bishop.
After UMass made it a one-goal game late in the second, the Black Bears extended the lead to 3-1 with a 5-on-3 goal early in the third period that seemed to take all of the gas out of the UMass attack.
Until the waning moments of the game.
That's when Maine's David de Kastrozza was whistled for interference at 18:31 and Cahoon pulled Quick for a 6-on-4 attack.
UMass managed five shots with the man advantage, but none of them came close to beating Bishop.
For his two-day effort (68 saves on 70 shots), Bishop was named to the all-tournament team along with teammates Tyler, Michel Leveille and Mike Lundin. Also named to the team were UMass' Matt Anderson and Kevin Jarman.
With the win, Maine (23-14-2) advances to its second straight Frozen Four and the sixth in the last eight years. The Black Bears lost in the championship game in 2002 and 2004, but they haven't won a national title since 1999.
"We got a second chance on this season and we need to take advantage of it, but we're only halfway there," Bishop said. "It feels good that we're going to St. Louis. It was one of my goals all season to get there.
"For the seniors, this will be their third time [in the Frozen Four], so we need to get them some hardware."
If it happens, it's a safe bet that a healthy Ben Bishop will have everything to do with it.
David Albright is the senior coordinator for college sports at ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.