Following Ouellette, Maine Looks to Improve
by Nicholas Canelas/CHN Writer
AMHERST, Mass. Martin Ouellette played well last Saturday night. Well enough for Maine to get a Hockey East win on the road against Massachusetts. But all of that was lost in a 17-second span in the second period.
It started with Michael Pereira, who took a cross-ice pass from Branden Gracel in front of the net, gathered himself and beat Ouellette on a power play eight minutes, 23 seconds into the second period. Then came Ray Pigozzi, who deflected defenseman Colin Shea's shot from the point into the back of the Maine net.
Just like that, a scoreless struggle, a goaltending battle between former Kimball Union teammates Ouellette and Steve Mastalerz, suddenly turned into a 2-0 UMass lead. With the way Mastalerz was playing and the way the Black Bears offense had been failing to capitalize on chances all weekend, it seemed like much more.
It turned out to be just enough for the Minutemen, who skated off the Mullins Center ice with three Hockey East points for the weekend with a 2-1 win on Saturday night.
“We played hard, really hard,” first-year Maine coach Red Gendron said. “But, we have to get better at finishing off plays. That’s what cost us the game (Saturday). We had our chances. We didn’t finish the chances. It’s pretty simple.”
It was that kind of weekend for the Black Bears. Just one week after scoring 11 goals in two nights against this same UMass team at Alfond Arena, Maine was held to just two goals in a weekend set on the road.
Ouellette was by far the Black Bears' best player, which has appeared to be the case for much of the season, making 55 out of a possible 58 saves for the weekend and robbing the Minutemen on a number of occasions. Ouellette did his part in keeping his team in the game. However, he didn't get the help he needed on the other end.
“He's as solid as they come in Hockey East, and we feel bad when we can't get enough goals for him because he keeps us in every single game.,” said Devin Shore, who scored a 5-on-3 goal from the slot in the third period of Saturday's loss. “We almost owe it to him to do our part and it was unfortunate we couldn't do it (Saturday).”
It's not as if Maine didn't have its share of chances. The Black Bears appeared to carry play for majority of Saturday's contest, outshooting UMass 39-26 and getting seven power-play opportunities for the game, but simply had no answer for Mastalerz.
“He’s a very, very good goalie,” Gendron said. “He stopped a terrific shot, made a terrific glove save and he made all the others. We were getting after him and he was there every time. He did a good job of controlling his rebounds and when he didn't we didn't get to them, so that's something we have to be better at. We have to get inside the enemy D and find a way to collect those pucks and shovel them in.”
Regardless of whether or not Maine simply ran into a hot goalie or couldn't finish its chances over the weekend, the one constant reliable piece was Ouellette. That has been the case in Orono ever since Ouellette solidified the full-time job last season.
He was one of the primary reasons the Black Bears went from being the worst team in Hockey East last year to going on a late-season run and clinching the final Hockey East playoff spot on the last weekend of the season.
It appears Maine will be asking that of him again this season. Ouellette has started all seven games for the Black Bears, sporting a 2.39 goals against average and a .919 save percentage and at 6-foot-2, uses his size to his advantage in the net.
“There's two things: he's good and he's a competitor,” Gendron said. “So he's got ability and then he goes in there and he takes it personal and is stopping every puck. You certainly want those things in a goalie. He's got good size. He's athletic.”
Ouellette is the rock on a team in transition. With a new coach, a new system and a young team, Maine appears to be in the midst of a rebuilding phase. However, Ouellette is a senior and won't be satisfied with just individual success this year.
“I felt good out there,” Ouellette said. “I thought I had two good games but I don’t think I played well enough to win because we didn’t win a game (this weekend). Maybe if I could’ve had one of those (UMass goals) we could’ve gone into overtime and the game could’ve turned out differently. The guys played well. Nothing we can do right now.”
Gendron still expects more from his team as the season goes on despite the long road ahead. Two goals in two games is something that won't be accepted and surely won't be enough regardless of what Maine gets from its goaltender.
“There are no moral victories,” he said. “Either you win, or you don’t. To tell you the truth our team played hard. The other truth is we weren't good enough offensively. No excuses.”
With that being said, Gendron is happy with his team's compete level through seven games. Now it's just a matter of learning how to win, something the program struggled to do last season and for much of the final years of the Tim Whitehead era.
“All I know is we have to get better,” Gendron said. “We play our (butts) off and that's great. That's step one. First thing you have to do is compete. Second thing you have to do is learn how to win and the third you have to do is know how to handle winning. So we've got the compete part pretty much down.”