ORONO, Maine — Good teams have to find different ways to win games.
The impressive and hard-working University of Alabama-Huntsville, just 2-24-1 entering Friday night’s game against the torrid University of Maine, had the Black Bears on the ropes with a well-deserved 3-0 lead after two periods.
But the Black Bears used three third-period goals to force overtime, getting the tying goal from Spencer Abbott with just 45.5 seconds left in regulation. Abbott then fed freshman center Stu Higgins for the game-winner 59 seconds into overtime as Maine triumphed 4-3 at Alfond Arena.
Maine, ranked 15th in the country, extended its winning streak to five games and its unbeaten skein to six. Maine is now 15-8-3.
The teams play again at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Alabama-Huntsville received some important first-period saves from sophomore goalie Clarke Saunders and then used a clinically efficient second-period performance to build its 3-0 lead.
Linemates Kyle Lysaght, Mac Roy and Justin Cseter accounted for the Charger goals as Lysaght scored in the first period before Roy and Cseter scored 2:55 apart in the second period.
But Matt Mangene sliced the lead on the power play 2:07 into the third period when Abbott’s one-timer from the right point off a Will O’Neill feed deflected in off his leg.
That extended Maine’s streak with at least one power-play goal to 18 games.
Freshman Andrew Cerretani notched his first collegiate point when he jammed an O’Neill rebound behind Saunders at the 9:34 mark.
But the Chargers protected the lead until the Bears lifted goalie Dan Sullivan in favor of the extra attacker.
Mark Anthoine and Brian Flynn won a puck battle in the corner and Anthoine passed it to Mangene at the point.
“Matt’s shot hit me in the leg. The puck dropped down and I just turned and shot it,” said Abbott, who had Saunders right behind him and was able to roof it into the short side corner from the right circle.
Sullivan came up with a crucial save seconds later to send the game into overtime when he squared himself at the top of the crease and robbed Roy, who had freed himself momentarily from Maine defenseman Mark Nemec and took a wrister from the middle of the slot.
Abbott set up Higgins’ game-winner as he masterfully controlled the puck behind the net, cutting back and forth, and then fed the open Higgins in the low slot.
Higgins scored with his third shot.
“[Saunders] came way out on me and made the first save. I got it back and the second shot was blocked. I got a lucky bounce, it came back to me again and I put it in,” said Higgins.
UAH coach Chris Luongo said his team worked hard but also said they had an opportunity to make defensive plays on the tying goal and overtime winner but weren’t able to do so.
“On the tying goal, we won the faceoff,” pointed out Luongo. “On the game-winner, we didn’t pressure [Abbott] as much as we needed to and our wingers didn’t collapse [to cover Higgins].”
Higgins said after the second period, Whitehead told the team there were players that hadn’t registered a hit through the first two periods.
“We hadn’t been gritty enough,” said Higgins.
“We dodged a bullet tonight,” said Whitehead, whose team outshot the Chargers 14-2 in the third period and 3-0 in overtime to finish with a 38-11 edge for the game.
Lysaght scored the only goal of the first period before Roy and Cseter added second-period goals 2:55 apart. They combined for four assists to go with their three goals.
Alabama-Huntsville managed just three shots on goal compared to Maine’s 15 in the first period, but the Chargers spent 8:49 on the penalty kill and shut out the nation’s second-best power play.
Saunders made eight Grade-A (high-percentage) saves among his 15.
Lysaght gave the Chargers a 1-0 lead at the 11:29 mark of the first period when he swooped on a pass from Cseter, sliced from right to left across the slot, pulled the puck around Sullivan and flipped it into the open net.
Roy made it 2-0 directly off a face-off as he was allowed to make his way unattended to the middle of the slot and he roofed a 15-foot wrister over Sullivan’s blocker.
Cseter extended the lead when he took a pass from Lysaght and muscled his way past a Maine defenseman before tucking the puck between Sullivan’s left skate and the post.
“It’s hard to keep a team with that many weapons down,” said Luongo.
“This showed what kind of character this team has,” said Abbott, who had two assists to go with his goal. “[UAH] played real well. They deserved a better fate.”
“The guys gave it all they had,” said Luongo.
Sullivan had five Grade-A saves among his eight, while Saunders finished with 19 among his 34.