ORONO — The University of Maine men’s hockey team had a golden opportunity to make a statement about their NCAA Tournament legitimacy Friday night.
Instead, the University of New Hampshire Wildcats gave the Black Bears a lesson in resiliency while showing them why they have made nine consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.
The Wildcats rallied from a 3-1 deficit with third-period goals from Jeff Silengo and Dalton Speelman and Silengo won it 1:26 into overtime as UNH shocked the Black Bears 4-3 before a sellout crowd of 5,445.
Speelman’s tying goal came with 18.3 seconds left and goalie Matt DiGirolamo on the bench in favor of the extra attacker.
Freshman center Silengo’s two goals were the first two of his career.
Third-ranked UNH improved to 10-2-4 overall, 8-1-2 in Hockey East, while No. 8 Maine fell to 7-4-4 and 5-3-2, respectively. It was Maine’s first home loss after five wins and a tie.
Maine will host UMass on Sunday at 4 p.m.
UNH’s Paul Thompson staked his team to a 1-0 lead in the first period but Robby Dee equalized just 1:16 later.
Brian Flynn and Gustav Nyquist supplied Maine with a 3-1 lead with goals 4:09 apart early in the second period.
A usually composed Maine coach Tim Whitehead was livid after the game.
“I am really disappointed in our team,” said an angry Whitehead. “We had chances to make it 4-1 and we didn’t get it done. That’s inexcusable.”
Whitehead also said he was disgusted with the officiating. He insisted that one of his players was held during the last-minute flurry which prevented them from clearing the puck out of the zone and enabled UNH to tie it.
“The bottom line is we had a 3-1 lead and we let it slip away,” said Maine senior defenseman Mike Banwell. “We didn’t close it out. We’ve got to figure out how to seal the deal.”
Flynn had a great chance to extend the lead on a breakaway but DiGirolamo made the save and, seconds later, Silengo sliced the lead to 3-2 at the 8:24 mark.
“I didn’t get the job done,” said a somber Flynn. “I tried to go five-hole but the hole wasn’t there.”
“There was somebody coming back on him so I knew he couldn’t deke (fake). I knew he had to shoot it so I closed the five-hole,” said DiGirolamo.
Silengo’s goal came off a four-on-three as Damon Kipp received the puck from Kevin Goumas in the middle of the picket-fence rush and slid it over to Silengo, who one-timed it past Martin Ouellette.
Maine had its first two power-play chances of the game later in the period with a chance to restore the two-goal lead but the power play failed to convert for the 30th and 31st consecutive times.
Speelman tied it by scooping a rebound into the short-side corner.
“Mike Sislo took a shot and I was just standing there alone (at the edge of the crease to Ouellette’s right),” said Speelman. “I took a whack at it.”
“It went between my arm and my body,” said Ouellette.
Silengo won it when John Henrion burst down the right wing and had his centering pass slither all the way across to the left circle where an unattended Silengo deposited it into a half-empty net.
“I was following the play and the goalie got caught out of position a little,” said Silengo.
“I think the pass was intended to go to the guy in front. I was surprised when it went over to (Silengo),” said Ouellette.
Flynn broke a 1-1 tie 1:03 into the second period with his second goal in as many games and Nyquist did likewise.
The line of Tanner House between Joey Diamond and Nyquist set the tone at the outset of the second period with an extensive forecheck that kept the Wildcats pinned in their own end. Flynn came off the bench on a line change and skated on to a loose puck in the right circle and fired a rising slapper past DiGirolamo.
Nyquist scored on a breakaway after knocking the puck out of the defensive zone and outracing UNH defenseman Blake Kessel.
Nyquist maneuvered across the top of the crease and flipped the puck over DiGirolamo’s extended right pad.
UNH went on a five-minute power play 1:25 later when Maine’s Mark Anthoine was called for hitting from behind.
But the Bears did an exemplary job killing it off.
Thompson, who entered the game with a league-high 23 points, scored his 11th goal of the season when he one-timed a Kessel pass over Ouellette’s blocker from tight angle to Ouellette’s right. Dee tied it when he picked up a loose puck in the neutral zone and took advantage of a gaffe by UNH’s defense tandem of Mike Beck and Connor Hardowa. Neither defenseman took Dee as he cut across the slot from right to left and he wound up skating in alone on DiGirolamo before snapping a 20-foot wrister over the goalie’s glove and just inside the far post.
Maine outshot UNH 30-25.