Maine Hockey: Gendron rewarded for confidence in Ouellette

Maine senior goaltender Martin Ouellette makes one of his 29 saves in his team's 2-0 Hockey East playoff victory over Merrimack. - Matt Dewkett (mrd-photos.com)

Maine heads south to take on Providence College in the Hockey East Quarterfinals this weekend.

Orono, Maine -- First year University of Maine head coach Red Gendron pulled Martin Ouellette into his office on Thursday afternoon to check on the confidence of his senior goaltender.

"I met with Marty on Thursday. We talked about it. I asked him to plainly tell me where his confidence level was at," said Gendron. "He assured me [he was confident]. It's one thing for him to say it, but I was mostly reading his eyes and body language."

Anyone who has watched Maine play this season, especially over the first half, knows how valuable Ouellette was to the success of the team. Even in some of the lopsided home victories during the first half, including wins over Boston College and Boston University, if it hadn't been for Ouellette, the outcome likely would have been different.

"Marty Ouellette brought this team to this point. He would have had to be pretty shaken up himself if I was going to take him out of the net," said Gendron, an assistant at Maine under Shawn Walsh from 1990-1993.

Despite all that, it wasn't until Friday that Gendron finally made up his mind on which of his senior goaltenders would start in the biggest game of the season to date.

"I really didn't decide until Friday morning," said Gendron. "I've seen [Marty] help us win lots of games. When he convinced me he had his confidence and he had two great days of practice, he was the guy."

Gendron reiterated a message he has preached so often since his return to Orono last May, the team comes first.

"What's more important than Marty, and Marty knows this, is what's best for the team. I thought playing him was what was best for the team. If I had thought it would have been better to play [Dan Sullivan], then I would have had no problem putting Dan in the net."

Ouellette proved his coach right when it came game time Saturday night. The St.-Hippolyte, Quebec native stopped all 29 shots he faced, including a huge save on Hampus Gustafsson with less than a minute to play when the Merrimack freshman was left all alone in the slot after an errant pass.

"It's always good to play a good game at home," said Ouellette when asked if Saturday's performance helped his confidence. "I was seeing the puck well so it's obviously positive. I worked hard in practice this week to focus on a few things. I was able to put that into my game and it worked out pretty well," added the Columbus Blue Jackets prospect.

Ouellette, who was 0-3-1 with a 4.24 goals against average and a .871 save percentage over the last four regular season games, said finding the puck in traffic was his main concentration during practice last week.

"I think just seeing pucks better, finding pucks through screens and setting my feet before the shot," Ouellette responded when asked what he worked on in practice. "I was able to do that [Saturday night] for most of the shots."

Ouellette's hard work in practice during the week began to pay dividends as Saturday's crucial playoff game approached. "He had great practices on Thursday and Friday," said Gendron.

Maine will need Ouellette to retain his renewed focus and confidence as the Black Bears travel to face a very good Providence squad in the Hockey East quarterfinals this weekend at Schneider Arena.

The Friars swept the Black Bears in the final weekend of the regular season, forcing Maine out of a first round bye and home ice in the quarterfinals.

Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSBNation.

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