Maine Hockey Journal

Huskies win to earn home-ice advantage in regular season finale

Gorham—Paul Conter scored twice, including the game-winning goal just seven seconds into overtime as the University of Southern Maine Huskies edged the Trinity College Bantams 2-1 on Saturday. With the victory, Southern Maine clinches home-ice advantage for the ECAC East Quarterfinals.

“That’s the first time we’ve ever beaten them,” said Southern Maine Head Coach Jeff Beaney.

The Huskies and Bantams traded chances throughout the opening frame, but neither squad could erase their donut on the scoreboard. Huskies goalie Mason St. Hilaire and Trinity’s Wesley Vesprini, both of whom were victorious just 19 hours earlier, combined for 21 saves through twenty minutes.

The goaltenders switched ends and continued to joust through the first half of the second period. With eleven minutes remaining, Sean McCarthy gave the Bantams a 1-0 lead with a quick shot from the far faceoff dot in USM territory. Benjamin Shellington won the draw and worked the puck to McCarthy whose shot sailed just over St. Hilaire’s left pad and inside the far post.

Wesley Vesprini continued to frustrate USM skaters and fans alike with big saves, but the Huskies managed to tie the game with a little good fortune. At the tail end of a powerplay, Paul Conter batted the puck into the crease from down low and watched as it bounced off of Vesprini’s skate and pad before trickling across the goal line. The unassisted goal came with three minutes to go in period two.

“It was a grinder goal,” said defenseman Paul Conter after the game. “It was lucky, but sometimes those are the best.”

Mason St. Hilaire made one of his finest stops of the night at the second period buzzer, thwarting Adam Houli, Trinity’s leading goal and point scorer, on a breakaway.

With a 1-1 tie through forty minutes, both teams played conservatively through much of the third period before dialing up the aggression at both ends of the rink.

Trinity had a powerplay opportunity with 8:50 remaining in regulation, but Southern Maine kept the deadlock intact with some crucial blocked shots and timely saves from their goaltender.

“(Assistant) Coach (Paul) Evans came into the room today and gave us a big pep talk,” said Conter. “He talked about working hard and making sacrifices, and a lot of guys stepped up.”

It didn’t seem to matter what was thrown at both goalies. The saves kept coming.  Deflections, slap shots, “Paul Bunyan” hack shots from in close. No goals.

The save of the night came from Vesprini when he snared a low shot with his glove while doing a full split.

Overtime would be required with the score still knotted up 1-1.

Tense play through sixty minutes set the stage for a chess match in OT, but Paul Conter had other plans. Just seven seconds into the extra session, Conter entered the Trinity zone and helped to solidify USM’s home ice advantage in the ECAC East Quarterfinals with a heavy slap shot. The puck sizzled over the equally hot glove hand of Wesley Vesprini and into the top corner of the net. Dan Rautenberg collected the lone assist on the game-winning goal.

“Honestly, it was kind of a lucky shot, but I wanted to put (the puck) in that general area,” said Conter.

Head Coach Jeff Beaney wasn’t quite so modest. “It was a picture perfect shot and I tell you, there isn’t a goalie who’s going to stop that. If (the shot) had missed the net, I think it would have gone through the glass.”

Mason St. Hilaire earned a victory for the second time in as many nights, stopping 28 of 29 shots. At the other end, Wesley Vesprini, arguably the top goalie in NESCAC, made 30 saves in the loss.

Just like that, after an eight game skid between January 23rd and and February 13th, the Southern Maine Huskies will enter the playoffs with two consecutive victories and ample confidence.

“(In the room) it’s just good vibes right now. You go up and down through a season and you just need to catch that wave,” added Conter. “You know what, playoffs mean everything.”

UP NEXT: ECAC East Quarterfinals vs. Skidmore on Saturday, February 27th.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply