My first weekend covering the Maine Mariners of the ECHL brought a three-game series against the Norfolk Admirals. Maine had just returned from a stint on the road, playing three games against Norfolk, one against Reading, and another against their division rivals- The Worcester Railers. During their three games at Norfolk on the 11th, 13th, and 14th of January, the Maine Mariners swept the Norfolk Admirals at their Scope Arena and then continued on to win their games at Reading and Worcester as well. Maine returned home to the Cross Insurance Arena to face off against the Admirals once again on Friday, January 27th.
The first of the three-kend (a three game weekend) brought a screeching halt to their franchise-best 11-game point streak and seven game win streak. The Mariners were shut out by Norfolk Admirals goaltender Cale Morris who blocked all 25 shots Maine had made on the goal.
The Admirals scored 44 seconds into the game – defenseman Griffin Lunn buried the puck in the net with an assist from fellow defenseman Billy Constantinou. Headed forward from there, neither team scored, which left the Mariners lagging by one at the end of the first period. Maine was working hard to score, but they weren’t getting there. In the second period, no goals were scored by either team. However, Jacob Wilson of the Mariners and Tanner Schachle of the Admirals got into a fight about halfway through the period. As I said, goals were tough to come by, and the score remained 1-0 in favor of the Admirals.
The third period seemed to be going in the same direction as the second period- stale. Shots on the goal were being made, but the puck wasn’t finding the back of the net. Maine had multiple chances for powerplay goals that evening, but the team just couldn’t get around Cale Morris. With about three minutes left in the game, Maine pulled netminder Francois Brassard, and from there, Norfolk scored two empty net goals. With Morris turning aside every shot Maine made on the goal, it brought him his first professional shutout.
The following evening the Mariners were back and ready for redemption. In the ‘Coaches Corner’ I listened to on the Mariners Mixlr channel, Mariners Head Coach Terrence Wallin said that he ‘really wanted to see more from the team’ and that the shutout on Friday was a needed ego/reality check. Wallin said he ‘hoped that it hit the reset button for the team and helped them to dial everything back in.’ We also shared a similar thought – the Mariners were too spread out that evening, so it made it easier for the Admirals to swoop in and get the puck.
Maine did make some waves that evening and certainly redeemed themselves after their loss the previous evening. Saturday evening was also Pride Night at the Cross Insurance Arena and drew a massive crowd. It was already evident in the first few minutes of the opening period that Maine was playing more cohesively. The only goal that period came from Mariners defenseman Nate Kallen with an assist from Patrick Shea at 11:18 left. The Mariners certainly kept their energy up into the second period.
In response to the Mariners goal, Norfolk tied the game in the first minute of the second period. Stepan Timofeyev got the puck past goaltender Michael DiPietro. The energy in the arena was electric – the next four goals came from the Mariners, and they went unanswered by the visiting Admirals. Forward Alex-Olivier Voyer wristed one home at 4:30. Goaltender Michael DiPietro made a crazy save, and Patrick Shea, with the assist from Keltie Jeri-Leon, scored and brought the game to 3-1. It remained that way until late in the period, when the wildest sequence of the evening took place- Matthew Santos and Grant Gabriele scored back to back just 40 seconds apart at 17:05 and 17:45. The crowd inside the Cross Insurance Arena went wild. Just under a minute later, Norfolk responded with a goal made by Tanner Schachle. This brought the score to 5-2.
Heading into the final period of the night, the Mariners scored one last goal, just for good measure. With Norfolk in a power play, Alex Kile stole the puck from veteran defenseman Ian White and sent the puck to the net. The final score at the end of the night was 6-2 Mariners.
White, a veteran of the NHL with 500 games under his belt, was recently signed to a standard player contract with the Norfolk Admirals. When asked what made the opportunity with the Admirals so special, he replied: “It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to play meaningful hockey. I got a call from Jeff (Admirals Head Coach) a week ago and jumped at the chance. There’s really nothing more fun that you can do as a job. And to play, hang out with the boys, play sports for a living… It’s been awesome, so I’m going to cherish this.”
I also asked him what drove him to continue playing hockey, as most players seem to retire in their 30s. “Just the love of the game.” Said, White. “The past couple years, I’ve been doing all sorts of construction jobs, and flooring and such. But nothing is as much fun as traveling around and playing hockey for a living.” Curious about his role with the team, given that he’s a veteran of the NHL, White answered that he had lots of hockey experience and lots of life experience, given that he’s 38, that he can pass on to the next generation. “It’s an honor and a pleasure to be able to do that. I love teaching, I love coaching and passing on what I’ve learned from the generation before me.”
My next question for the defenseman was if he felt he had taken anything for granted in the NHL. He answered that he didn’t think that he took anything for granted, but in the moment, it’s hard to really soak it all in. “When you’re away from the game, and you look back at it, you realize everything you’ve done in the game, and you wish to relive those memories. So now, getting a chance to do it all over again feels amazing.” My final question for White that evening was what he wanted his legacy to be in the hockey world. He chuckled slightly and replied: “I don’t know if I have a legacy per se, it’s nice to know that I’m back in the game and reconnecting with people all over the hockey world… I’ve gotten a lot of positive comments, and people seem to really like the way I play and have handled myself over the years. I’m getting a lot of respect, and it feels great.”
Sunday afternoon went incredibly well for the Mariners, with three powerplay goals. This helped them defeat the Norfolk Admirals for the second straight day, bringing home two wins out of the three-kend.
With just about five minutes in the game, forward Mathew Santos got a big hit on Norfolk’s Danny Katic right in front of the Admiral’s bench. DJ King then took a five minute major penalty and a game misconduct. A high-sticking penalty on Norfolk followed shortly after that, giving Alex Kile a chance to send the puck home. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty followed for Mathieu Roy of the Admirals, and the Mariners scored two more goals. Alex-Olivier Voyer scored after a pass from Pat Shea, and a few minutes later, Mitch Fossier scored as well. Mathieu Roy of the Admirals got them on the board before the period ended.
The Mariners went on to score twice in the second period. They capitalized once again on a powerplay with Keltie Jeri-Leon netting one home. At 16:45, Alex Olivier-Voyer netted his second goal of the afternoon after a pass from Alex Kile. At the end of the second period, the Maine Mariners led 5-1.
The only goal of the third period was one made by Norfolk Admirals defenseman Billy Constantinou at 11:36. The Admirals went on to make more shots on the goal, but they just couldn’t get it past Francois Brassard. At the end of the evening, the Mariners won with a score of 5-2. The Maine Mariners won nine of their last ten games and are now two points behind the Reading Royals for second place in the Northern Division of the ECHL. The Mariners are on the road now, with a three game series from the 3rd-5th of February at the division lead Newfoundland Growlers. The Mariners return home on Friday, February 10th, to face off against the Trois-Rivieres Lions.