Matthew Thiessen has had a roller-coaster season, just like his University of Maine hockey teammates.
But the Black Bears’ junior goalie picked up his first career win in an 8-1 Senior Night victory over No. 14 Boston University on Saturday and will try to make it two straight in a Hockey East first-round playoff game at Merrimack College in North Andover, Massachusetts, on Wednesday night.
The playoffs are all single-elimination this year.
Merrimack is the sixth seed and is 18-14-1 overall, including a 13-11 league record. UMaine is 7-21-4 and 5-17-2 and is the 11th seed.
Thiessen, a seventh-round draft pick of the Vancouver Canucks (192nd overall), has strung together a pair of impressive 32-save performances in his last two starts, a 3-2 overtime loss at Providence and the victory over Boston University.
“It has been a little bit of a drain. I hoped my first win would have come a lot sooner,” Thiessen said. “We’re playing a good team on Wednesday and I’m going to go out and do everything I can to help the team win.”
UMaine first-year head coach Ben Barr said goalie coach Alfie Michaud has done a good job improving the mindsets of the three goalies: Thiessen, Victor Ostman and Connor Androlewicz.
“The last two games, Matt went into the net playing like he wasn’t coming out. That’s the killer instinct we need in the playoffs,” Barr said. “Matt has been a real good teammate. He’s a really good person.”
Merrimack and UMaine have met three times this season.
They split in Orono on Nov. 12-13, the Black Bears triumphing 6-5 in overtime before losing 2-0, and Merrimack dealing UMaine a 5-0 drubbing at Lawler Arena in North Andover, Massachusetts, on Feb. 5.
Barr called the 5-0 loss one of their worst performances of the season.
“Merrimack is as good a team as there is in the league. This is a great chance for us to prove that we’re a better team than we were a month ago,” Barr said.
“We had our best effort and compete level of the season against BU and we need to have that and even more on Wednesday because we’re on the road. We’re going to have to be even more focused.”
When the team plays at the top of its game, it can beat anyone in Hockey East, Barr said.
Merrimack coach and former Colby College head coach Scott Borek said his team is in for a test.
“Maine is playing fast right now and they’re really aggressive. They seem to have a high level of belief,” Borek said. “It’s going to be a real good game.”
None of Merrimack’s players have played in a Hockey East playoff game. They opted out last year and haven’t qualified for the playoffs since the 2017-18 season.
“The more disciplined team will be more successful,” Borek said. “You need to be mature about approaching the game in a methodical way. That’s much more important. Being emotionally sky-high isn’t the way to be successful.”
UMaine continues to be led by its top line of Lynden Breen (8 goals, 16 assists) between Donavan Houle (10 & 8) and Ben Poisson (9 & 5). Grant Hebert has 7 & 9. Freshman David Breazeale (2 & 13) has anchored the depleted defense corps, which has lost three of its top five defensemen due to injury.
One of them, freshman defenseman Sam Duerr who has missed five games with an upper body injury, could return Wednesday, according to Barr.
Thiessen has a 1-7-3 record, a 2.92 goals-against average and a .896 save percentage.
Merrimack features Max Newton (12 & 23), Liam Walsh (9 & 16), Steven Jandric (7 & 18) and Filip Forsmark (10 & 13) along with defenseman Declan Carlile (7 & 17). Newton has three goals and three assists in the three games against UMaine and current linemates Steven Jandric and Alex Jefferies each have 2 & 2.
Borek said he hasn’t decided on a goaltender between Hugo Ollas (9-5-0, 2.00, .927) or Zachary Borgiel (9-8-1, 3.03, .892).