PORTLAND — Of the three goalies on the Maine Mariners’ roster, Connor LaCouvee is the one without a National Hockey League contract.
He’s also the one with a victory.
In the first ECHL start of his professional career, LaCouvee made 32 saves Sunday as the Mariners won for the first time as the latest pro hockey team in the state, beating the Newfoundland Growlers 4-2 before a matinee crowd of 1,972 at Cross Insurance Arena.
“He definitely won us that game,” said Alex Kile, a second-year pro who notched both the tie-breaking and back-breaking goals in the third period. “I think the other team outplayed us a bit but he stood on his head and made the saves we needed him to make.”
The Mariners (1-3) entered the third period trailing 2-1 and the score remained that way until just under seven minutes remained. Dawson Leedahl collected his rebound off a Newfoundland defender and scored a power-play goal to tie. Ryan Culkin and Jason Salvaggio assisted, and Terrence Wallin provided a helpful screen of Newfoundland goalie Michael Garteig.
Seventeen seconds later, in an abrupt transition, Scott Savage sent Kile on a breakaway up the middle and Kile scored for a 3-2 advantage, marking the first time the Mariners held a third-period lead.
The Growlers (3-3) cranked up the pressure despite having to kill off one more penalty and with 1:10 remaining saw a two-on-break break thwarted by LaCouvee, who then had to stop a hard slap shot before Kile potted an empty-netter from the blue line to seal the victory.
“It feels really good, especially at home,” Kile said. “I feel like the first three games we’ve had good spurts at times but we couldn’t really complete a game. Even (Sunday), we didn’t really play the best but we came together in the third and won a game.”
Newfoundland held a 34-24 advantage in shots on goal. It was particularly lopsided in the second period, during which the Mariners managed just four shots to 13 for Newfoundland. A four-on-two rush led to the first Newfoundland goal, by Ryan Moore in the slot.
The second came a few minutes later on a power play redirection, with Marcus Power converting.
The Mariners had taken a 1-0 lead midway through a penalty-filled first period when each team had four skaters on the ice. John Furgele sent a long diagonal pass to spring Drew Melanson and Melanson found an opening beneath the crossbar for his first goal of the season. Derek Pratt also assisted.
Minor penalties on Leedahl and Ryan Culkin overlapped slightly in the early part of the opening period, but LaCouvee stopped all three shots from Newfoundland and defenseman Zach Tolkinen blocked another.
“A big penalty kill to start the game, that’s huge,” LaCouvee said. “For myself personally, it’s always nice to survive that, just get your edges underneath you and calm some of the nerves down.”
LaCouvee didn’t suit up for the home opener last weekend or Friday’s loss to Reading. He finally dressed Saturday night at Worcester and relieved Brandon Halverson, stopping 10 of 11 shots in the third period of a 4-1 loss to the Railers.
“I couldn’t be more proud of him as a guy that we signed to come into Portland,” Mariners Coach Riley Armstrong said of LaCouvee. “He has been positive the entire time, waiting for his time to shine and he took control of it.”
After playing three games in three days, the Mariners don’t return to action until Wednesday night at home against the Manchester Monarchs.
“Anytime you can come from behind and have success, it’s pretty exciting,” Leedahl said. “That makes it exciting for the fans as well.”