ORONO — It wasn’t perfect. Too many penalties and missed opportunities made the score closer than it should have been.
Still, the University of Maine opened its home hockey season with a 2-1 victory, a success that eluded last year’s squad for four months.
Stu Higgins scored twice and Martin Ouellette stood tall in goal in the third period as the Black Bears (1-2) held off Bentley (1-3) before a boisterous crowd of 4,569 on Saturday night at Alfond Arena.
The game marked the regular-season debut at Alfond for new coach Red Gendron.
“The atmosphere was absolutely phenomenal,” Gendron said. “It wasn’t a sellout but it was pretty darned good. I heard the student line (stretched) way the heck beyond the football field. I’m so excited that the kids on this campus are coming down and filling this building. They provide us with an incredible jump.”
The Black Bears came out strong, scoring in the third minute when a Jon Swavely forecheck resulted in a two-on-zero advantage. Connor Leen set up Higgins on the far post for an easy goal and a 1-0 lead.
Bentley tied it within two minutes when a shot by Andrew Gladiuk following a faceoff went in off Ouellette’s facemask.
Despite a 19-5 lead in shots on goal, the Black Bears failed to regain the lead in the period.
Higgins and Leen connected on the winner a little more than six minutes into the second period when Jake Rutt forced a turnover in the neutral zone and Leen, leading a three-on-two rush, left a drop pass just inside the blue line for Higgins.
“I had Coach’s voice in the back of my head screaming, ‘Shoot!’” said Higgins, who notched only one goal last season. “He always talks about how we had something like 77 goals last year, so we’ve got to start shooting the puck more and I took his advice.”
The shot beat Bentley goalie Brandon Komm below the blocker for a 2-1 lead. The rest of the period was filled with penalty killing from both teams; each finished 0 of 7 on the power play.
The scoreless third included four penalties, and Bentley held a six-on-four skater advantage for more than a minute near the end after pulling Komm, who finished with 33 saves to 24 for Ouellette.
“Penalty killing was great,” Gendron said. “They played the system perfectly and they made some great clears. At the end of the game in the six-on-four, the other team really didn’t even come close.”
Last season, Alfond fans saw only two victories by the home team, one in February and another in March. That 2-9-6 record was a factor in the firing of former coach Tim Whitehead after 12 seasons.
“It’s good not to wait until February like last year,” said Ouellette, who made several tough stops in the third period.
“I think part of this is to rebuild the enthusiasm,” Gendron said. “And the way you build enthusiasm is by winning games. I can shake hands and kiss babies until the cows come home; that’s not going to put fannies in the seats. Victories will put fannies in the seats.”
Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: