Looking ahead to Saturday night’s NCAA Division I Men’s Hockey Northeast Regional, it struck me there has been a common denominator on the University of Maine’s most successful hockey teams through the years: An outstanding goaltender.
All Black Bear fans have to do is think back to the likes of Scott King, Garth Snow, Blair Allison, Alfie Michaud, Matt Yeats, Jimmy Howard and Ben Bishop.
Those guys were difference-makers between the pipes.
Could Dan Sullivan be the next one?
He was thrown into the fire as a freshman in a rotation that included Shawn Sirman and Martin Ouellette, and performed admirably. Sullivan has continued his progress this season, backstopping coach Tim Whitehead’s Black Bears on the way to their first NCAA regional appearance since 2007.
Sullivan’s numbers are solid, but unspectacular. He owns a 2.54 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage.
What Sullivan has done is win 22 games.
His postseason seasoning began in earnest with the best-of-three Hockey East quarterfinal series against Merrimack and continued in last weekend’s Hockey East semifinals (a 5-3 victory over Boston University) and final (a 4-1 loss to Boston College).
This weekend will provide Sullivan and the Bears with their toughest test yet as they pursue a berth in the Frozen Four, starting with Saturday night’s game against defending national champion Minnesota-Duluth.
If UMaine advances, it will be because Sullivan and the defense responded to the challenge of big-game pressure.
Sullivan’s success will hinge upon his ability not only to make the initial save, but to prevent follow-up chances. If he can control his rebounds and cover up, the Bears should be in the hunt to beat the Bulldogs and move on.
He also has demonstrated the ability to make tough saves on odd-man rushes and breakaways.
The Bears’ defense should take a conservative approach in its own own end. They shouldn’t play around with the puck in front of Sullivan or try to get cute.
Instead, UMaine should bang the puck out of the zone quickly, especially early in the game. It will help Sullivan get settled in and comfortable.
Sullivan is bound to be tested eventually, but anything the Bears can do to limit high-percentage chances is critical. If he can play with a lead, it might help propel him to a place alongside UMaine’s long line of outstanding goalies.