Conduct a Google search of “Ron Tugnutt” and the first results that pop up pay homage to one of the most memorable nights in New England hockey history.

On March 21, 1991, when the last-place Quebec Nordiques visited the Adams Division-leading Boston Bruins, Tugnutt made an incredible 70 saves to earn the Nordiques a 3-3 tie with the Bruins — an effort so impressive several Bruins skated over to Tugnutt to congratulate him following the contest’s conclusion.

Seventy saves. Seven-zero. In one single 65-minute game.

It’s almost impossible to imagine that type of workload. But Maranacook/Winthrop/Madison/Spruce Mountain senior goalie Will Hays doesn’t have to imagine it. He’s seen it firsthand.

Again. And again. And yet again.

“I remember my first varsity start as a freshman, against Cape Eiizabeth, that was a big one,” Hays said. “I can’t remember the exact number, but they had around 80 shots. Last year against Greely was a big number, too.”

For those keeping score at home, Greely peppered Hays with 58 shots in an 8-1 win in February at the Bonnefond Ice Arena on the campus of Kents Hill School. Cape Elizabeth had a 60-shot game against Hays, while Brunswick, Gorham and Gardiner all hit the 50-shot plateau in single games against the Hawks last season.

Hays, who attends Winthrop High School, has statistically been the busiest goaltender in Maine high school hockey over each of the last two seasons. He faced 935 shots in an 18-game slate last winter, up nearly 30 shots from his sophomore campaign, for an average of 51.9 shots per night.

Lawrence/Skowhegan/MCI goalie Hunter Raye logged the second most shots seen last winter at 615 — more than 300 fewer than Hays faced — according to stats compiled by mainehshockey.com.

“Will’s sitting back there taking 40, 50, it seems like a thousand shots a game,” Hawk junior defenseman Keegan Choate said. “He’s making saves and only a small minority of the shots are getting through. That’s what keeps us in most of these games. If we didn’t have a goalie like Will, I don’t know where we’d be.”

While his save percentage of .879 in 2017-18 might not dazzle as a standalone statistic, it’s hardly the measure of the Winthrop goalie’s workload.

“It wears me down near the end of the season, but it’s definitely turned me into a better goalkeeper physically and mentally,” said Hays, who averaged almost 46 saves per game last season. “Losing doesn’t really get to me anymore, it’s just another experience. Seeing all those shots, getting all that practice, it’s only making me a better player.”

Tangible proof exists that Hays — and the Hawks — are improving. Though they were just 1-17-0 last season, they never surrendered double-digits in goals.

Seven times the previous winter they allowed 10 or more.

Maranacook/Winthrop head coach Jack Rioux does worry that there is a fine line between repetition making for a better player and getting too much work. For a team that’s won just once in 36 tries over the last two winters, there’s always the concern that losing becomes too much of the culture.

Marnacook/Winthrop/Madison/Spruce Mountain goalie Will Hays participates in drills during practice Tuesday at Bonnefond Ice Arena at Kents Hill School. Staff photo by Andy Molloy

“To face that many shots every season, nobody gets that kind of a workout,” Rioux said. “From a development standpoint you wonder, if you lose too much or see too many shots all the time, do you stop caring?

“The thing about Will is that he still takes every shot seriously. In practice, in a game, it doesn’t matter. He’s about as tuned in as any goalie I’ve ever worked with.”

“The way I see it, it’s not about me,” Hays said. “(The heavy workload) doesn’t really matter. I’m playing for the team. It doesn’t matter if we’re down 12-0, I still don’t want to give up a single goal. If I stop doing that, what does that say about me and to the team?”

Rioux believes Hays may be one of the best netminders in the state, an underrated workhorse if ever there was one.

“I honestly believe if he was on a powerhouse team like a Lewiston, an Edward Little, a Greely, any one of those types of teams, he’d have had a save percentage in the mid-.900s,” Rioux said. “He’d be the best goalie in Class B.”

Choate can relate to the pressure Hays, whom he called a team leader the Hawks are motivated to play in front of, faces on a nightly basis. As a quarterback for the Winthrop football team, Choate understands the microscope goalies and quarterbacks often find themselves under.

“You’re in that position where all the pressure seems to be on you,” Choate said. “I know my football guys look at me and you want to be the person who can take those tough hits, tough shots, make those plays or make those saves. Will is one of those guys.”

Hays didn’t always want to be a goalie.

When he was a youth player, he played both forward and defense. It wasn’t until he was in sixth grade and his local team needed someone to stand between the pipes, covered head to toe in bulky pads, that he first decided to give it a shot.

The rest, they say, is history.

And even on a young team which allows so many shots against in the juggernaut Class B South, Hays resists any urge to feel sorry for himself or allow frustration to set in.

“I love the game. I don’t care if I’m losing 20-0. I’m going to show up and do the best that I can all the time,” Hays said. “Sure, it’s hard not to get down on myself if I let up five goals in a period, but I just remember that I love playing the game.”

Hays also tries to keep in mind that lacrosse season is just around the corner. He’s a goalie there, too.

“That game doesn’t see as many shots, so it’s a lot easier,” Hays said.

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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