ORONO — On paper, Saturday night’s 3-3 overtime tie between the University of Maine men’s hockey team and the University of Connecticut should have been a complete mismatch.
The nationally ranked Black Bears, with the full allotment of 18 scholarships, entertained a UConn team that doesn’t have any scholarships and won just seven games a year ago.
Maine was fourth in the nation in scoring (3.67 goals per game) and UConn was 58th or dead last (1.59). UConn was 53rd in team defense (3.65).
Maine had the nation’s best power play (27.7 percent) and UConn had the nation’s worst (11.4 percent).
But sophomore goalie Garrett Bartus turned in a scintillating 40-save performance and the Huskies did a tremendous job limiting Maine’s odd-man rushes (3-on-2s, 2-on-1s and breakaways) and second- and third-shot opportunities as UConn earned its tie.
Maine is now 1-0-1 while UConn was playing its opener.
Sophomore center Sean Ambrosie tied it for UConn with 6:56 left in the third period.
Maine attempted 87 shots to UConn’s 37, had a 43-19 edge in shots on goal and had 41 Grade-A (high percentage) scoring chances to UConn’s 11. But the Bears left the arena humbled and disappointed.
The Huskies capitalized on Maine’s Achilles’ heel, its dismal penalty-killing, to score a pair of power-play goals to offset a pair of Black Bear shorthanded goals and enter the third period tied 2-2.
Maine also rang six shots off the posts and crossbar.
“I should go kiss (the goalposts) right now,” grinned Bartus.
Miles Winter gave UConn a 1-0 lead with the only goal of the first period.
Tanner House and Brian Flynn scored shorthanded goals 1:06 apart early in the second period to give Maine a 2-1 lead, but Bartus extended his right pad to rob Gustav Nyquist on a breakaway and the Bears squandered a 5-on-3 power play that spanned 1:07 later in the period.
Alex Gerke tied it with a one-timer on the power play with 1:12 remaining in the middle period.
Spencer Abbott supplied Maine with a 3-2 lead 2:07 into the third period with a screened wrister from the top of the left circle, but an unattended Ambrosie equalized with a screened wrister, short-side, over freshman goalie Martin Ouellette’s glove.
“Marcello (Ranallo) had it in the corner and got it to me. (Cole) Schneider was screening in front, they had a little defensive breakdown and I got lucky and picked a good spot,” said Ambrosie.
“I didn’t see it until the last second,” said Ouellette.
Maine wasted another 5-on-3, spanning 47 seconds and spilling over from the third period into OT. Maine finished 0-for-8 on the power play.
“The guys did a great job clearing out the front of the net, letting me see shots. They blocked shots and took away the back-door options,” said Bartus.
“Their goalie played great and I was surprised how well they played,” said Nyquist. “They had a lot of speed, good size and they were a great shot-blocking team. They kept it simple in the defensive zone and did a great job eliminating our second and third shots and protecting the net.”
UConn blocked 15 shots.
“They did a very good job staying on the defensive side of the puck, trapping, clogging things up and bubbling in front of their goalie,” said Maine senior center Tanner House.
Besides the breakaway save off Nyquist, one of 21 Grade-A saves made by Bartus, his other two spectacular stops came off Joey Diamond with Maine leading 3-2 in the third period and off Jeff Dimmen in overtime.
The goalie slid across to rob Diamond as he re-directed a pinpoint diagonal pass from Abbott, and he darted from post to post to save Dimmen’s one-timer off a Nyquist pass.
“I thought it was in. He made a nice save with the toe of his skate,” said Dimmen.
“That was instinct. I work a lot on that in practice,” said Bartus.
Winter opened the scoring by roofing a Schneider pass from the the middle of the slot, but House and Flynn scored similar goals to put Maine ahead. Each swept home loose pucks after Nyquist and Matt Mangene had driven the net front, respectively, and created a scramble situation.
Gerke tied it on the power play when Winter set him up nicely for a one-timer over Ouellette’s glove.