ESTERO, Fla. — Maine goaltender Martin Ouellette saw his long consecutive-games-played streak end two weeks ago.
With the way he played Saturday, blanking Princeton 4-0 in the opening game of the Florida College Hockey Classic on the Gulf Coast, Ouellette won’t be coming out of the net anytime soon.
Ouellette stopped 33 shots and kept Maine in position to prevail and sure enough, the Black Bears warmed up and scored three times in the third period. Steven Swavely scored twice while Jake Rutt and Stu Higgins also found the back of the net for the Black Bears (10-6-1), who put 37 pucks on goal.
“His play speaks for itself,” Swavely said. “He’s the best around. He comes up big when we need it and even when we don’t need it.”
On this night, Maine needed it. After Swavely banked in a rebound 3:33 into the first period to give Maine an early lead, there was no more scoring until the third period. Princeton put a lot of pressure on the Black Bears, outshooting them after two periods.
“I thought Princeton out-competed us,” Maine Coach Red Gendron said.
Ouellette saw his streak of 34 straight games in net end Dec. 14, Maine’s last game before a two-week break.
The goalie said he skated during the break and added the two practices in Florida prepared him well.
“I felt fresh, pretty good,” he said. “The break always helps but I hadn’t played that much. We play two games a week, sometimes one.”
Gendron said Ouellette looked sharp in the two practices in southwest Florida.
“That was clear,” he said. “We got a great game from him. He had to make some nice saves. That was a huge thing.”
When Swavely scored on the first shift of the third period, momentum had swung. The goal deflated Princeton (3-12).
“I could tell,” Swavely said. “That kind of demoralizes them. That’s tough anytime you score early in the third. It was really huge, a dagger.”
Gendron added, “First shift, when that went in the net, it made it real tough on them. When we got the second one, we pretty much controlled the rest of the game.”
Brown and Higgins added third-period goals, the latter coming in the final seconds.
Maine will go for its third straight Florida College Hockey Classic title and sixth in the event’s 14-year history Sunday against Cornell or the University of New Hampshire.
Gendron, Ouellette and Swavely gave different reasons why this tournament matters to the Black Bears.
Gendron said it’s about competing, particularly in a format that’s similar to the NCAA postseason. Swavely said it’s a great chance to build momentum heading into the second half of the season.
Ouellette said a tournament title will help its power rating as it tries for an NCAA bid. “It’s not a big championship but a championship we want to win,” he said.