LEWISTON — With many of the 3,074 hockey fans at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee to watch a certain goaltender play here for the first time in nearly two years, it was another little-known keeper at the other end who stole the show.
Todd Ford, a journeyman goaltender who played for three different junior teams in the Western Hockey League before suiting up for seven different professional teams since 2004, stopped 36 shots and came within 6.5 seconds of earning a shutout in his first start with Portland on Sunday as the Pirates skated off with a 2-1 win over Manchester.
“We’re just glad to get the win right now,” Ford said. “We came real close to shutting them out, but the win is the main thing. It’s good to have quality defensemen in front of me to clear the pucks out, making my job a lot easier.”
Ford, who played earlier this season with the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL and with the Texas Stars of the AHL, is in the lineup for Portland due to an injury to regular starter Jhonas Enroth. He’s making the most of his chance.
“When I was in Texas I didn’t play a whole lot the last part when I was there,” Ford said. “When I went down to Charleston, I played some more games and got more games under my belt. To come back up here and to sit a couple of games just to get used to the AHL again and then to get in and get the win, it’s a good feeling.”
Mark Mancari had both goals for Portland, his team-leading 24th and 25th of the season.
On the other end, former Lewiston Maineiacs goaltender Jonathan Bernier, who’s been stellar for the Monarchs this season and played in this year’s AHL All-Star Classic, was solid in his own right. Both Portland goals were power play goals, and Bernier twice made saves that drew murmurs of approval from the gallery.
“He’s been a great goaltender this year,” Portland coach Kevin Dineen said of Bernier. “It’s always fun to watch good young players develop, no matter which organization they play for. As much as I like that, though, I didn’t mind ruining his homecoming.”
Bernier and center Marc-Andre Cliche, two pivotal pieces of the Maineiacs’ championship run in 2007, were playing their for the first time as professionals in the building where they each spent four years playing junior hockey.
“It was a little weird, not as comfortable for sure,” Cliche said. “It was just great to be back in the building though, to see the fans.”
“It was kind of funny, being on this side, but it was a good crowd and a lot of fun to play here,” Bernier said.
The Pirates, meanwhile, have now collected at least a point in five consecutive games, including a shootout win against Manchester on Friday.
Neither team lit the lamp in a fast-paced, relatively whistle-free opening period. Portland managed just a couple of quality scoring chances, and Bernier snuffed them out.
On the other end, Manchester barely tested Ford, despite having the lone power play opportunity of the period.
It took a power play for Portland to finally assert itself offensively midway through the second period, and it took just 56 seconds with the extra skater for the Pirates to find the back of the net. Mark Mancari notched his team-leading 24th goal at 9:31 of the middle frame on a blast from the blue line. The puck found its way through traffic and beat Bernier off the right post along the ice.
“I only picked it up after it got by Cliche, who was diving to block it,” Bernier said. “They had a good screen in front.
Nathan Gerbe nearly made it 2-0 three minutes later, but Bernier showed off his right-to-left speed and stuffed the former Boston College sniper with a left pad save.
The teams traded power play chances in the latter stages of the second period, but neither converted.
Cliche opened the third with the Monarchs’ best scoring chance of the night after Ford misplayed the puck and fed a streaking Cliche in the middle of the slot. In his haste to put the puck into the empty cage, Cliche misfired, sending the puck flailing high over the crossbar.
“I put everything I had into it,” Cliche said. “I wanted it so bad, and I just put it over the net. The puck was rolling a bit, I hit it too hard, almost.”
Teammate Oscar Moller snapped Ford’s shutout bid in the final moments of regulation when he stuffed a rebound into the cage from the left side of the crease.