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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Freshman Goalie Bendel Could Be Difference Maker

Back in May of 2003, Jean-Sebastien Giguere single-handedly carried the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, the seventh seed in the Western Conference, to the Stanley Cup Finals.

His regular season numbers were very good (34-22-6, 2.30 GAA, .920 save %), but the Ducks weren’t a stacked team and were not considered favorites to contend for the Cup. But Giguere put that team on his back and carried them deep into the postseason.

If not for one of the best three goalies of all-time, the New Jersey Devils’ Martin Brodeur, standing in the Ducks’ crosshairs that postseason in the Finals, Anaheim may have won Lord Stanley’s Cup based solely on the out-of-this-world net minding of Giguere.

The French Canadian made 63 saves in Anaheim’s initial first-round playoff game, a 3-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings. He then faced 63 more shots in the Ducks’ 4-3, five-overtime, game 1 win of their semi finals matchup with top-seed Dallas. In the Conference Finals, Giguere allowed only one goal in four games as the Ducks swept the Minnesota Wild.

Giguere, an average NHL goalie at the time, was a beast in net for the Ducks that postseason. The key to success in the playoffs, any hockey mind will tell you, is great goaltending and “Jiggy,” as Giguere was dubbed, provided just that for the Ducks.

And come playoff time in the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference East, UMass Boston has a chance to make a Mighty Ducks-type run if their goaltending is up to the challenge.

With reigning ECAC East Goaltender of the Year Ryan Donovan having a down year (5-6-2, 3.55, .887) for the Beacons, the focus has turned to a freshman out of Denville, New Jersey, Kevin Bendel. The Atlantic Junior Hockey League product was thrown into the fire midseason as head coach Peter Belisle was looking for a spark to ignite the sputtering Beacons.

Bendel has started five of the Beacons’ last six games, including tilts against upper-echelon teams such as Norwich University, Salem State College and Castleton State College. His 2-3-0 record may not reflect it, but Bendel has been doing an excellent job of keeping his team in games and giving them every possible chance to win.

The Beacons goalie doesn’t have enough games under his belt to qualify for the ECAC East’s stats, but if he did, his .935 save percentage would be first in the conference and his 2.37 goals against average would be fifth best. And he’s not putting these numbers up against impotent teams. Three of Bendel’s games have come against the first, third and fourth-ranked offenses in the Conference – Norwich, Salem State and Castleton State. UMass Boston is 0-3 in those games, but all three have been one-goal games. Norwich and Salem State both defeated the Beacons in overtime and most recently, Castleton handed UMass Boston their seventh one-goal loss of the season.

In one of his recent – and most impressive – efforts, Bendel became only the eighth player in UMass Boston history to record a shutout when he stopped all 40 shots he faced in the Beacons’ 4-0 win over Skidmore College. When UMass Boston desperately needed a win to keep pace in the ECAC East, Bendel came up large, keeping the Thoroughbreds out of the net on all eight power play chances they had.

As of February 4, the Beacons still find themselves looking up from the basement of their conference, two points out of eighth place and only five points shy of a tie for fifth place. If they want to dance with the likes of Norwich, New England College and Salem State in the playoffs, they will have to jump at least two spots in the standings.

With six games – all of which are ECAC East matchups – remaining on the schedule, the Beacons have their work cut out for them and most of the pressure looks to land squarely on the shoulders of a 5-foot-9, 185-pound freshman goalie with five games of collegiate experience under his belt.

At face value, the Beacons seem to be at a disadvantage running a young, unseasoned goalie onto the ice night-in, night-out to face teams chocked full of upperclassmen with experience in the biggest of games.

But if the games against Norwich, Skidmore and Castleton State have been any indicator, the Beacons just might find themselves riding a virtually unknown freshman goalie deep into the ECAC East playoffs.

Ryan Thomas can be reached at [email protected]

About the Contributor
Ryan Thomas served as the sports editor for The Mass Media the following years: 2007-2008; 2008-2009