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Monday, Sept. 22, 9:34 a.m.
Sports

Martin Ouellette shines for UMaine in starting spot

On Nov. 9 2012, the University of Maine Black Bears men’s ice hockey team played Hockey East foe University of Massachusetts-Lowell, the River Hawks, in Lowell, Mass.Up to that point in the season, UMaine had produced less than desirable results with a 1-8-0 record and no conference wins. All three Black Bear goaltenders had been shuffled in and out of the line-up over the first month of the season — none showed the consistency that the team needed.

On that November night in Lowell, UMaine head coach Tim Whitehead decided to start junior goaltender Martin Ouellette. The Black Bears have stuck with him ever since.

Though UMaine did not win that night, the next night brought them their first conference victory, and the season turnaround was set in motion. Ouellette was in net when UMaine won the Florida College Classic over the winter break and goaltended when the Black Bears won their first home game last Saturday against the same UMass-Lowell team, coincidentally.

Since naming Ouellette as the starter, UMaine has gone 7-8-5 for his 20 starts. He has saved 499 shots and boasts a 92.4 percent save rate, allowing 2.16 goals per game.

Ouellette calls St. Hippolyte, Quebec home — a town about 45 minutes north of Montreal. Before he could achieve success at UMaine, he first had to get over one major hurdle: learning English.

“I learned [English] at prep-school in New Hampshire for two years,” Ouellette said. “It was pretty hard, especially the first semester. I didn’t really speak English, and all the classes were in English. Having all the homework in English was a pretty big adjustment, but it’s my fifth year now studying English so I’m used to it.”

Ouellette played two years of hockey at Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, N.H. During his second year, Ouellette played in 29 games, posting a record of 21-6-2. Ouellette allowed 45 goals, an average of 1.61 goals per game.

After his second year at Kimball, Ouellette was drafted by the NHL Columbus Blue Jackets in June of 2010. Ouellette plans to go pro after his stint at UMaine is complete.

“Obviously I’ll try and keep playing and have a pro career after this when I leave after my senior year next year,” Ouellete said. “It’ll be great to keep going.”

Even though Ouellette was drafted by Columbus, his favorite team was the Montreal Canadiens growing up. Among his favorite players were goaltenders Patrick Roy and Carey Rice, but Ouellette looked up to family when it came to his own hockey career.

“I started playing when I was four or five. My dad played hockey and my brother did too so I just followed their footsteps,” Ouellette said. “I started as a forward when I was four or five. My older brother is four years older and he was a goalie. He was a role-model for me growing up. I just wanted to be like him, so I became a goalie as well.”

With many years of goaltending experience, a proven track record at Kimball Union and having already been drafted by a professional team, Ouellette was going to be a tough player to get for any school. But after visiting other colleges and witnessing the experience that is a hockey game in the Alfond Arena, UMaine was the clear choice for Ouellette.

“I had a few visits with other schools, and when I came here I just liked the set-up they had here, and the coaching staff made a good impression. The school is great as well, and the timing was good. They had two spots open for goalies. That was a big factor,” Ouellette said. “I like the campus and the atmosphere here with the fans and the atmosphere at the games: That was another big factor.”

Last year’s run to the NCAA tournament and Hockey East Championship game as a member of the UMaine Black Bears stands out to Ouellette as his most memorable moments.

“Even though we lost, it was a great experience,” Ouellette said. “Frozen Fenway was also a great memory; I’ll always remember that.”

During the Black Bears run to the national tournament, fellow junior goaltender Dan Sullivan was the starting goaltender at the time. Even though their roles on the team have changed, their relationship has stayed the same.

“[Our relationship] is great. [During the] last two years, it was Dan as a starter. We’re actually roommates, so we have a good relationship. I was happy for him to be doing well. The same thing is going on right now; he is happy for me, and we hope the best for the other one. We’re really supportive of each other,” Ouellette said.

Not only are Ouellette and Sullivan the team’s last line of defense when a defender gets a clear path to the net, they are also responsible for making sure freshman goaltender Matt Morris is prepared for when his number is called.

“Having us two in practice and our experience really helps him get better and helps him see what we’ve become since we’ve been here. It’s been good for Matt to look up to two veterans,” Ouellette said.

“If you lose, you’re pointed out as a reason, but when you win you’re a part of winning,” Ouellette said of goal tending. “You’re the last guy [in the line of defense], and you can’t make a mistake; but if you do make a mistake, it’s a goal. You’re the last guy to make a save in a situation, so that’s the hardest part about being a goaltender.”

Chants of “Marty! Marty!” can be heard from the student section of Alfond Arena when Ouellette makes a big save such as the one he made to preserve a tie against Providence College last weekend in the last seconds of the game. If Ouellette wishes to hear the crowd scream his name in the future, he will have to continue to perform, improve and see if he can help this year’s Black Bears back into the Hockey East playoffs.

Ouellette will be back in action as the 8-15-5 Black Bears have a home series against the 13-11-1 Boston University Terriers this upcoming weekend at the Alfond Arena. The puck drops on Friday night at 7:30 p.m., and the game will be televised nationally on the NBC Sports Network. Saturday’s game will start at 7 p.m. and will be aired in New England on NESN.