By JACK EBLING
Special to the BDN
EAST LANSING, Mich. — The University of Maine Black Bears were fit to be tied.
Despite three scores in a span of 4:38 late in the first period and a two-goal lead late in the second, the nation’s No. 8 hockey team had to settle for a 4-4 overtime deadlock with Michigan State Thursday night.
The teams meet again at 7:30 tonight in Munn Ice Arena.
“They’re a real good team,” Black Bears coach Tim Whitehead said of the resurgent Spartans. “They had a good second period. We were good in the first. It was pretty even in the third and in overtime. It was pretty much what we expected. But I don’t know if anything surprises me any more.”
Maine (1-0-2) got two goals from senior center Robby Dee and lot of big saves from sophomore goalie Shawn Sirman. But No. 20 MSU got a huge surge of confidence with a tie in its regular-season opener.
“I like their team,” Spartans coach Rick Comley said. “They’re very good. But we proved we can play with them. They’re ranked high in both polls and were picked second in Hockey East. So they’re a legitimate team.”
MSU scored first with just 5:08 elapsed when Dustin Gazley blocked a clearing pass at the left point, moved in on Sirman and beat him with a power-play blast from 45 feet.
When the Black Bears responded six minutes later, they didn’t stop scoring until they led 3-1. And the fun started when Dee banged a power-play rebound past Drew Palmisano, after defenseman Will O’Neill clanged one off the goal post.
“We wanted to get the puck to the net,” Dee said of both his goals. “That was the whole objective tonight. The first one came off the post. I just had to put it in.”
Defenseman Mike Cornell made it 2-1 on Maine’s only even-strength goal, cleaning up the work of Swedes Theo Andersson and Klas Leidermark at 13:24.
And Joey Diamond gave the Black Bears a 3-1 cushion at 15:59 after his team showed terrific puck control on the power play. But the Spartans regrouped in the first intermission after being outshot 17-9.
“I just tried to talk positive,” Comley said. “When we got the second goal, we were right back in it. If they get the fourth goal first, we’re dead.”
MSU answered when Daultan Leveille moved to the top of the right circle and blasted a shot past Sirman at the 8:23 mark for his team’s only five-on-five tally.
Maine made it 4-2 and appeared to take the wind out of the Spartans. Dee did the damage again, tipping in a power-play blast from defenseman Spencer Abbott, who originally got credit for the goal.
“We’re a pretty explosive team,” Dee said. “We have a lot of skill guys. But we’ve got to work on closing it out. Michigan State was unbelievable.”
The Spartans took full advantage of bizarre, back-to-back five-minute penalties — one on each team — and scored power-play and short-handed goals late in the second period and early in the third, respectively.
When Andersson was slapped with a major and game misconduct for hitting from behind, MSU’s Brett Perlini made it 4-3 at 17:40 of the second with a shot from the slot.
And after an apparent rebound goal by Black Bears left wing Brian Flynn was nullified by inadvertent goalie interference, the Spartans tied it at 4 on a two-on-one rush.
Mike Merrifield evened the score on a sweet pass from Trevor Nill at 1:53 of the third period, leading everyone to look for a 6-5 finish. Instead, both teams missed great chances, while Sirman and Palmisano made save after save in the final 23:07, including the five-minute overtime.
“The momentum was so up-and-down,” Sirman said. “But we’ve got take fewer penalties. Usually, we’re smarter than that. And to have them score that way was crazy.”