ORONO, Maine — Junior goalie Matthew Thiessen did everything he could to supply first-year head coach Ben Barr with a win in his Alfond Arena debut.
That included saving four breakaways.
But a fluke first-period goal by senior Adam Tisdale was all the Pioneers needed to earn a well-deserved 1-0 victory over the Black Bears.
Sacred Heart is now 2-3 while UMaine fell to 0-3. The teams will complete their series on Saturday at 5 p.m.
Sacred Heart was the better team, spending much more time in the offensive zone and creating several more scoring chances than the Black Bears.
An enthusiastic crowd of 4,142 witnessed UMaine’s first home game in front of a crowd in 595 days due to COVID-19 restrictions.
UMaine did play a Hockey East playoff game against New Hampshire last year but no fans were allowed in the arena.
Thiessen finished with 33 saves while Justin Robbins made 24 in posting the shutout.
Tisdale’s goal came 8:29 into the game.
Rourke Russell dumped the puck behind the UMaine net and Thiessen went behind to play it.
But the puck took a crazy bounce and came out front and Tisdale tapped it in.
“The puck was high enough on the glass to hit a stanchion [and glance out front],” Thiessen said.
Thiessen kept the Black Bears within striking distance with a number of terrific saves over the final 10 minutes of the middle period as the Pioneers took control of the game.
Midway through the period, Russell’s neat little flip pass sent Dakota Raabe in alone on Thiessen.
Raabe, who played 115 games at the University of Michigan before transferring to Sacred Heart, made a few moves and pulled the puck over to his forehand but Thiessen held his ground and made a right pad save.
Moments later, Thiessen came up with a glove save on Dante Fantauzzi’s wrister from the middle of the slot and then he got his stick on Austin Magera’s wrister off a two-on-one.
He made another gem with four minutes left in the period when he moved across the crease to rob an open Neil Shea, who had stickhandled from right to left across the low slot.
Shea is a Northeastern transfer and younger brother of former Black Bear Patrick Shea.
Sacred Heart created some chances on its first power play late in the middle period but again Thiessen was razor sharp in making saves off Logan Britt, Ryan Steele and Magera.
UMaine had a nice flurry early in the period as it was able to sustain its forecheck and generate some opportunities but Robbins registered a few important saves to protect his team’s lead.
Thiessen stopped three breakaways in the third period.
His teammates mismanaged the puck on several occasions, turning it over in the neutral zone which led to Sacred Heart transition opportunities.
“Our compete level and effort wasn’t where it needed to be and that led to turnovers,” said UMaine junior center Ben Poisson. “Matt was our best player.”
Thiessen said that on the breakaways, he was “just trying to get some depth and get some good flow coming back and reading what they were going to do. They liked to shoot on a couple of them and there were a couple where they liked to [fake]. You just have to read what they were doing and go from there.”
Sacred Heart coach C.J. Marottolo. said Thiessen was “tremendous.”
Robbins made a game-saving stop after UMaine pulled Thiessen in favor of an extra attacker in the final minute of play as he closed his pads to thwart Adam Dawe, who fired a short backhander from the low slot.
“We are not mentally and physically capable of putting together a 60-minute game right now,” Barr said. “We played two periods in each game in Omaha but only a period and a half tonight.”
Barr added that Sacred Heart was “the better team tonight.”
Marottolo was pleased with his team’s performance.
“It was a total team effort. We really played well in the neutral zone. We were able to use our speed. And we blocked a lot of shots,” Marottolo said.