It wasn’t the game-winning goal, but it was a score he’ll probably long remember. University of Maine defenseman Matt Duffy fired a one-timer past the University of Massachusetts goalie to give the Black Bears a 3-1 lead last Saturday in an NCAA regional final in Rochester, N.Y. The goal gave Maine enough breathing room to secure the eventual 3-1 win and another trip to Division I hockey’s Frozen Four.

The difference between a 2-1 lead and a 3-1 lead in NCAA tournament play is obviously much larger than during the regular season.

“There was a huge collective sigh of relief when Matt’s goal went in the net,” said University of Maine head coach Tim Whitehead. “I’m so happy for him because he’s worked very hard on his one-timer.”

Duffy will admit he doesn’t score many goals (he has five goals and five assists in the 38 games he’s played this year). But he knows his goal in last Saturday’s regional final was important. Especially since the Black Bears weren’t sure they’d even be invited to the tournament after getting swept by this same UMass squad in the Hockey East quarterfinals.

“We didn’t know if we were going to make it (the NCAA tournament). This is a second breath for us,” said Duffy about the opportunity the Black Bears are taking full advantage of.

Maine (23-14-2) will face Michigan State (24-13-3) in a national semifinal game in St. Louis, Mo., at 4 p.m. on Thursday, April 5. The winner of that contest will play for the national championship on Saturday, April 7, against the winner of the Boston College-North Dakota semifinal.

“We’re coming in as the underdog and we’re going to go in and try to win the whole thing,” said Duffy.

This is a dream come true for the Windham native who grew up following the Black Bears. “I use to come up and watch the games (in Orono),” Duffy recalled.

Now he and his Maine teammates have a chance to win a national title. And the Black Bears’ coach knows full well what to expect when Duffy steps onto the ice in the Frozen Four.

“He’s a steady physical presence for us,” said Coach Whitehead. “He’s a rugged defender, he blocks shots, and he protects the front of the net, very well. The other positive is he’s pretty good in the offensive zone when he gets the puck.”

He has two years left at Maine and then he’ll have opportunities to move on with his hockey career.

“Down the road, I definitely want to play professionally,” Duffy said about his future plans. “But my goal right now is to develop as a player and as a person.”

And he’d also like to be skating around the ice with a national championship trophy this coming weekend.

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