ORONO – When sophomore Dan Sullivan prepares for another pressured game as goalie and cornerstone for the University of Maine hockey team, the pre-game music piped through his headphones is the throbbing beat of techno.

But that hardly describes Sullivan’s game.

His style is disciplined and thorough. Think classical. Mozart. Bach. For Sullivan, a 1-0 shutout, like last Saturday’s win over New Hampshire, is as satisfying as mastering a violin concerto.

Sullivan would know.

But his manner is also full of unexpected movement. Think jazz. Some of the kick saves and glove stops that Sullivan displays are as smooth as Michael Brecker jamming on the saxophone.

And, yeah, Sullivan would know about that, too.

Dan Sullivan, 23, is a renaissance cool cat. He began playing the violin when he was 7, and took up the saxophone two years later. His youth was filled with concerts and gigs.

But before Sullivan held either instrument in his hand, he had skates on his feet.

“I think when I was about 21/2,” Sullivan said. A friend of his father took the young Sullivan to a hockey game. “I just loved it.”

By the age of 4, Sullivan was playing hockey. By 8, he was a full-time goalie.

Now, 15 years later, he is the man Maine relies on as it begins play in the Hockey East tournament Friday on its quest to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007.

“He’s really the rock for this team,” defenseman Brice O’Connor said. “We can play with so much confidence knowing he’s behind us.”

O’Connor spoke last Saturday after Maine was outshot 32-29 by New Hampshire, but rescued by Sullivan who made some stunning saves.

“Fabulous,” Maine Coach Tim Whitehead afterward, saying Sullivan has emerged as a “top-shelf goalie.”

ALWAYS TRYING TO IMPROVE

It is quite a transformation from an up-and-down freshman year, and a start to this season that included being yanked after 22 minutes and four goals in a rout at Boston College.

Now a top-shelf goalie?

“He’s worked extremely hard,” Whitehead said. “He’s earned it.”

Sullivan is cautious with self-assessments. Yes, he has made improvements, especially with his positioning.

“I don’t think too much has changed. I prepare the same way. I try to improve every day,” he said. “It’s necessary not to be too satisfied. Satisfaction can bite you.

“I’m trying to constantly improve.”

His apex, to date, would be the UNH game, which included some out-of-nowhere sliding pad saves. Sullivan had a little extra something going for him that evening. Before the game, his older sister, Rebecca, sang the national anthem, a rendition that Whitehead said “is the best I’ve ever heard,” and had the Alfond Arena crowd exploding with applause.

“I had chills,” Dan Sullivan said.

WELL-TUNED

The younger brother grew up with music in the Sullivan’s York, Pa., house. While his father, Dr. James Sullivan “plays a little trumpet,” his mother, Doris, is the musical foundation, having sung in her father’s church.

Rebecca took classical piano lessons, moved on briefly to acoustic folk songs and is now a rising jazz singer in Chicago (check out www.rebeccasullivanjazz.com).

Dan was well involved in music, too, taking lessons, performing with both instruments. But there was also hockey; school teams and travel teams.

“It was a full schedule,” Sullivan said.

After high school, Sullivan spent three years playing junior hockey, with stops in Long Island, N.Y.; Waterloo, Iowa; Omaha, Neb.; Marquette, Mich.; and, finally, Frisco, Texas. It was with the Texas Tornado — where former Maine goalie Ben Bishop also played — that Sullivan shined and caught Maine’s attention.

GOOD NUMBERS ALL AROUND

Sullivan jumped in and played 21 games for Maine last year, recording a 2.73 goals-against average and an .890 save percentage.

Those numbers have improved to 2.56, .908 this season.

His numbers in the classroom are equally impressive: 4.0 grade-point average as a business management and finance major.

It’s also possible that among smart college hockey goalies who can master a Mozart violin concerto, and belt out a soulful tune on the saxophone, Sullivan may be the best.

“He’s a real determined young man,” Whitehead said, “and very talented.”

That’s talent with a capital T, right here in Alfond Arena. 

Staff writer Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or [email protected]

Twitter: KevinThomasPPH

 


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