Maine missed a great opportunity for a win in the NCAA Tourney

Posted March 25, 2012, at 5:24 p.m.

WORCESTER, Mass. — There are times when a team leaves a rink after a loss and simply faces reality.

The better team won.

But I’m not sure the University of Maine’s hockey team left Saturday night’s 5-2 loss in the Northeast Regional to defending national champion Minnesota-Duluth with that mindset.

The Black Bears probably departed the DCU Center bemoaning a missed opportunity.

As well they should.

It was a game for the taking. It was a game they could have won.

They dominated the first period and Hobey Baker Award finalist Spencer Abbott staked them to a 1-0 lead with a power-play goal. But Maine had 11 Grade-A (high-percentage) scoring chances to UMD’s three and should have had a bigger lead.

The energetic Black Bears made UMD look like a very ordinary and sluggish team.

However, Kenny Reiter made eight Grade-A saves, with the best one coming in the final two seconds of the period when he flashed out his pad to rob Matt Mangene, who was trying to capitalize on an Abbott rebound.

Had Mangene gotten a little more on his shot or lifted it, it would have been 2-0 and Maine would have gone into the locker room with all kinds of momentum.

That was one of the game’s turning points.

Mangene did convert a weird goal in the second period to make it 2-0 when he kept skating while the Bulldogs stood around with their hands on their hips after the Maine net was dislodged.

But because a Bulldog player had knocked the net off its moorings, the rules allow the nonoffending team to complete its scoring opportunity and Mangene took advantage.

Some teams would have been unnerved by a goal like that one.

But, to their credit, the Bulldogs were undaunted and when Jack Connolly scored a power-play goal 3:37 later, the momentum had swung.

Sophomore Jon Swavely and junior Klas Leidermark were the penalty-killers and they are in their first seasons as regulars on the penalty kill.

Maine coach Tim Whitehead likes to keep his skilled power-play guys fresh by not playing them on the penalty kill but, in a win-or-go-home scenario, he would have been better served to stick to his power play guys — Brian Flynn, Abbott, Joey Diamond, Mangene, Mark Anthoine — on the penalty kill.

The Bulldogs seized the game later in the period with goals one minute apart off Maine turnovers.

As it turned out, that was all the Bulldogs were to need.

J.T. Brown added an insurance goal in the third period on a shot Dan Sullivan probably should have saved and Jake Hendrickson added an empty-netter, but it was icing on the cake.

Maine could only muster three shots on goal in the final period and just one was of the Grade-A (high-percentage) variety as UMD clamped down impressively.

Maine seemed to be out of gas and rarely even got the puck into the UMD zone.

UMD outshot Maine 8-3 although the Bulldogs managed just three Grade-A scoring chances themselves in the period.

What happened to the Maine team that played with so much jump in the first period?

It was a combination of several factors:

• The excitement of playing in the program’s first NCAA Tournament since the 2006-2007 season resulted in the Bears expending so much energy in the first period that they didn’t have much left in the tank after that.

• The defending national champions didn’t panic in the face of adversity and gave the Bears a lesson in how to stay composed and how to protect a lead.

• A senior goaltender with 11 career playoff wins outplayed a sophomore with much less playoff experience.

• UMD’s top-end players outplayed Maine’s top-end players.

• Maine’s power play wasn’t able to produce more than the one goal in five chances.

• UMD, the higher-seeded team, was able to capitalize on having the last line change by putting out a highly efficient checking line (Joe Basaraba-Hendrickson-David Grun) to neutralize Maine’s top line of Abbott, Flynn and Joey Diamond.

• Costly turnovers.

You have to tip your hat to the Bulldogs.

Overcoming a 2-0 deficit in front of a partisan Maine crowd was a noteworthy feat.

But you didn’t leave the game feeling that UMD was any better than Boston College, Boston University, UMass Lowell or New Hampshire.

It was simply a case of an opportunity lost.

Now it is up to Maine to learn from its experience, take the many positives from this season and build on them next season for another NCAA Tournament run.

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