ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine’s men’s hockey team rode an emotional roller-coaster Saturday night.
But when the wild ride ended, junior left wing Connor Leen’s goal with 28.4 seconds remaining gave the Black Bears a hard-fought 3-2 win over Merrimack College at Alfond Arena.
Maine improved to 15-10-3 overall, 9-5-2 in Hockey East. Merrimack fell to 7-18-3 and 2-12-2, respectively.
Maine has won four of its last five while Merrimack has lost five in a row and seven of its last eight. The Black Bears are 12-1 at the Alfond Arena. Merrimack is 1-13-2 on the road.
Maine squandered a pair of one-goal leads and appeared to fall behind when Mike Collins’ game-tying five-on-three power play goal was followed a minute later by a five-on-four power-play goal.
But it was ruled that a Merrimack player directed the puck into the net with his arm so the goal was waved off, courtesy of the video review.
The crowd of 4,724 responded with boisterous energy and Leen eventually won it when he positioned himself in front of the net and tipped Devin Shore’s slap shot from the right circle past Rasmus Tirronen. Cam Brown fed the puck to Shore.
“When [Brown] is moving his feet out there, he’s tough to stop. He got it to Devin in the high slot and I just tried to get my stick on it. It either went five-hole [between the goalie’s legs] or seven-hole [between the goalie’s glove-side arm and his body],” said Leen.
“I called for the puck pretty loud and Cam got it to me,” said Shore. “I took a rip at it. I got a lot on it. It was a heavy shot. I was just trying to get the shot on net and it went in. It was a really awesome feeling.
“They block shots really well. I was happy to get it past the first layer of shot blockers,” added Shore.
Shore was originally credited with the goal but it was changed at the conclusion of the game.
Merrimack had tied the game with 8:41 left when Collins fired a snap shot past a screened Martin Ouellette from the middle of the high slot.
And Collins was one of the Warriors driving the net a minute later when the rebound of a shot popped in the air and landed in the net. But it was overturned.
Ben Hutton’s first-period power-play goal, his 11th goal of the season which tops the nation’s defensemen, gave Maine a 1-0 lead as he sprinted to the far post and directed Ryan Lomberg’s perfectly-placed diagonal pass behind the helpless Sam Marotta.
Merrimack’s Vinny Scotti equalized at the 11:19 mark of the second period when he stole the puck from Billy Norman, broke in alone on Ouellette and pulled the puck around the goalie before banking it in off him.
But Brice O’Connor answered just 26 seconds later when his one-timer from the right circle off a Brian Morgan pass glanced into the net of Marotta’s stick.
The game was much more physical than Friday night’s Maine win.
The Black Bears could only convert one of their first six power-play chances through two periods so they couldn’t extend the lead.
Merrimack starting goalie Marotta fell to the ice and left the game at the 15:49 mark of the second period and was assessed a diving penalty. He suffered a neck injury when he was hit with an elbow, according to Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy. He was replaced by Tirronen, who played in Friday’s 2-1 loss.
Maine coach Red Gendron called it “an exceptional college hockey game.”
Ouellette finished with 23 saves while Marotta made 17 on 19 shots and Tirronen stopped 11 of the 12 shots he saw.
Both teams went 1-for-6 on the power play with nine shots on goal.