NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — The University of Maine’s hockey team picked up a valuable road point Saturday night with a 2-2 overtime tie against the nation’s seventh-ranked team, the Merrimack College Warriors.
But the Black Bears thought they had a win only to have Spencer Abbott’s apparent game-winner with 27.8 seconds left in OT waved off because it was ruled that the whistle had blown before Abbott tucked the puck into the net.
Joey Diamond’s initial shot off a Kyle Beattie pass was saved by Merrimack goalie Joe Cannata and a wild scramble ensued during which Abbott shoveled the puck home.
The referees had waved it off initially and, after a lengthy video review, they upheld their ruling.
“I was about to shoot it when I heard the whistle,” said Abbott in validating the referee’s decision. “But they shouldn’t have blown the whistle. The puck rolled over (Cannata’s) face. He never really had control of it. The ref just missed the call. He may have been a little out of position.”
Maine coach Tim Whitehead said referee Tim Benedetto told him he lost sight of the puck.
When a referee loses sight of the puck, they are supposed to blow the whistle and stop play.
“He’s an excellent official and a great guy. He told me after watching the replay, that he probably blew the whistle too soon,” said Whitehead who added that he appreciated Benedetto’s honesty.
The Maine coach pointed out that there wasn’t audio available at Merrimack to hear if the whistle had blown even though there is a league rule that every rink must have audio.
“On the audio we had (on our videotape), it appeared the puck went in before the whistle,” said Whitehead.
Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy said, “Whether he should have blown the whistle or not (remains to be seen). But he did and it worked out in our favor. We feel a lot better about it than [Maine].”
Whitehead said, “It’s unfortunate that we didn’t get the two points but at least we earned a point on the road and we’ll move forward from here.”
Maine is now 10-8-3 overall, 7-7-2 in Hockey East. Merrimack is 12-4-5 and 8-3-3, respectively.
Maine snapped Merrimack’s overall four-game winning streak against them and four-game winning skein at Lawler Arena.
After losing to the Warriors 6-2 on Friday night, the Black Bears poured 41 shots on Cannata and took a pair of one-goal leads on Brian Flynn’s first-period power-play goal and Diamond’s second-period even-strength score.
But Elliott Sheen answered Flynn’s goal at the 12:19 mark of the second period and, after Diamond re-established the lead 3:44 later, Jesse Todd tied it up with his third power-play goal of the weekend.Todd’s game-tying goal came with 11:51 left in the third period.
“It was a very good point,” said Whitehead. “Our compete level was much higher than Friday night and (goalie) Dan Sullivan bounced back with a solid game.”
Abbott added, “Everybody was competing tonight. We played real hard.”
Diamond said Maine played smart.
“The disallowed goal was a tough break for us because I thought we were definitely the better team tonight,” he said. “This was a big bounce-back game for us. We know how we have to play to win games.”
Flynn extended Maine’s streak to 13 consecutive games with a power-play goal (24-for-65, 36.9 percent) when he pounced on a Mark Anthoine rebound and fired it past Cannata.
Maine outshot Merrimack 15-9 in the first period but Cannata kept his team within a goal.
Sheen equalized when he jumped on a Will O’Neill turnover, skated into the zone and fired the puck off the far-side post and in.
O’Neill was assessed a 10-minute misconduct after the goal.
Diamond recaptured the lead when he deflected Nick Pryor’s wrist shot from the point behind Cannata.
“It was a great shot by Nick and I got a piece of it,” said Diamond.
Todd, who had scored five and six seconds after Merrimack had gone on the power play on Friday night, took just nine seconds to score after Diamond was assessed an interference penalty.
Todd’s initial shot was kicked out by Sullivan but the puck came right back to him and he snapped it home.
“I got my pad on the first shot but his second shot beat me low between the blocker and my body,” said Sullivan.
Maine carried the play in overtime, outshooting Merrimack 5-1 to finish the game with a 41-34 edge in shots.
But the Black Bears had to settle for a tie when their game-winner was disallowed.
Sullivan said he took a page out of Cannata’s book.
“He plays deeper in his crease than I do so that’s what I did tonight. You have to be ready quicker in this rink because there’s very little room in the neutral zone so you have to start getting ready (for a shot) when they carry it over the red line,” said Sullivan, noting that goalies don’t have as much time to come out to cut down the angle and then skate back into their crease.