BURLINGTON, Vt. – It is a faceoff play called U.S.A.
"I think the U.S. National (Under-18) Team used it against us once," recalled University of Maine men's hockey coach Tim Whitehead, explaining how it got its name.
The play worked to perfection Saturday night as junior left wing Spencer Abbott scored on a breakaway 2:44 into overtime to give the Black Bears a hard-fought 3-2 victory over the University of Vermont at the Gutterson Fieldhouse.
Maine, ranked seventh in the country, improved to 4-1-2 overall, 2-0 in Hockey East, while the Catamounts fell to 0-2-2 and 0-1-1.
Gustav Nyquist won a defensive zone faceoff back to Josh Van Dyk and he fired the puck off the far boards into the neutral zone where Abbott maneuvered his way around a UVM defenseman and broke in alone on goalie Rob Madore.
"As soon as I saw that we won the faceoff, I took off," said Abbott. "I knew their defenseman wasn't that good at turning so I was fortunate enough to get past him and get the puck."
Abbott said when he bore down on Madore, "I knew I wasn't going to shoot it (right away).
"I was going to deke (fake) one way or the other," said Abbott. "I went backhand and then over to my forehand. I knew he'd get his pad out quick so I had to elevate the puck quickly."
Abbott beat Madore to the glove side for what he considered to be the biggest thrill of his hockey career.
"I don't think I've scored an overtime winner since I was 14 or 15," he said.
Van Dyk said he had to snap it off the boards at an angle "so it didn't go for an icing.
"Luckily, (Abbott) has wheels this year," grinned Van Dyk. "He obviously has great hands."
Abbott had nearly won it earlier in overtime when he had a one-timer from the slot off a Jeff Dimmen pass gloved by Madore.
"I couldn't believe he stopped it," said Abbott.
The Black Bears had a pair of one-goal leads but the Catamounts answered to force the overtime.
All four goals came on the power play.
Tanner House opened the scoring at the 6:26 mark of the second period but Wahsontiio Stacey equalized.
Robby Dee broke the deadlock with eight-tenths of the second left in the period before Jack Downing scored a third-period goal during a full two-minute five-on-three.
"This was a great win for us," said junior right wing Nyquist, who assisted on all three goals. "We knew it wasn't going to come easy. They're a great defensive team and Madore played great. But we stuck with it."
House added, "We did a good job getting the puck in (to the defensive zone) deep and forcing their defensemen to play down low."
Maine had a 42-25 edge in shots on goal despite receiving three fewer power-play chances. Maine attempted 80 shots to UVM's 47 but the Catamounts blocked 27 shots. Maine had 34 Grade-A (high-percentage) scoring chances to UVM's 17.
Vermont has the largest defense corps in the country (6-foot-3, 210-pound average) and UVM finished its checks. But Maine caused problems for the Catamounts with its speed, tenacity and quick puck movement.
"It was good college hockey game," said UVM coach Kevin Sneddon. "Maine has an excellent team. We were physical with them but they were able to handle it."
Sneddon was satisfied with his team's play with one exception: faceoffs. Maine had a 49-22 edge in faceoffs and its last two goals resulted from faceoff wins.
"We can't afford to lose draws clean (like we did)," said Sneddon.
House opened the scoring with a one-timer from the low slot after Nyquist cleverly stickhandled around a defenseman and slid it over to him.
Stacey tied it from a scramble in front as he was able to poke the puck past freshman goalie Dan Sullivan.
Maine went on the power play with just 4.8 seconds left in the period and converted when Dee won the faceoff back to Abbott and roofed an ensuing rebound after Nyquist tipped Abbott's midpoint shot.
Madore made several glittering saves early in the third period to keep his team within a goal and Downing tied it by deflecting Drew MacKenzie's point shot past a screened Sullivan.
Sullivan finished with nine Grade-A saves among his 23 and Madore had 16 among his 39.