ORONO, Maine — University of Maine senior left wing Nolan Vesey said winding up with a tie against the University of Connecticut after surrendering a game-tying power play goal with 15.9 seconds left in regulation “would have been a tough pill to swallow.”
So he made sure it didn’t.
Vesey’s goal just 27 seconds into overtime gave the Black Bears a thrilling 4-3 Hockey East win in a mutual season opener at Alfond Arena on Friday night.
Jeff Wight swept home a Karl El-Mir rebound from the edge of the crease to force the overtime. UMaine had been assessed a “too many men on the ice” penalty with 1:57 remaining.
The two teams play again Saturday at 4 p.m.
On the game-winner, UMaine defenseman Mark Hamilton rubbed out a UConn player in the defensive zone and Chase Pearson chipped the puck out of the zone off the boards- and Vesey raced onto the puck and carried it down the left side on a two-on-one with Eduards Tralmaks.
“I had a good head of steam and I saw a little room on the short side. I closed my eyes and shot,” said Vesey, whose shot sailed over Adam Huska’s blocker and glanced into the net off the short-side post.
“I had scored a couple of goals short side in practice this week,” noted Vesey.
“That was a great shot. It was a goal scorer’s goal,” said UConn head coach Mike Cavanaugh.
“It was a big-time play by a senior forward. He came through in a big way,” said UMaine coach Red Gendron.
UMaine goalie Rob McGovern finished with 35 saves, including two third-period breakaways, while Huska ended up with 29.
UMaine built a 2-1 lead after the first period as goals by Tim Doherty and Rob Michel sandwiched a UConn goal by Kasperi Ojantakanen.
Falmouth native Benjamin Freeman tied it up 1:15 into the second period but Peter Housakos restored the one-goal lead for the Black Bears with 7:07 left in the period.
Doherty had opened the scoring at the 5:05 mark off a two-on-one with Jake Pappalardo. Hamilton and Brendan Robbins worked the puck up to the neutral zone and Doherty skated onto it just outside the blue line.
He skated down the left wing, used Pappalardo as a decoy, and snapped a wrist shot into the upper, short-side corner past Huska’s blocker.
The Huskies received a two-man advantage later in the period and Ojantakanen tied it just after the second penalty had expired. He one-timed a diagonal pass from Johnny Austin into the short-side corner from the bottom of the left faceoff circle.
Michel answered when he dashed into the offensive zone, took a pass from Mitch Fossier at the right point and maneuvered across to the middle of the slot before wristing the puck into the upper far corner past the blocker of the screened Huska.
Sophomore Freeman equalized when he parked himself in the right faceoff circle and one-timed an Ojantakanen pass from behind the net into near-side corner.
Sophomore Housakos equalled his goal total of a year ago off a three-on-two with linemates Cedric Lacroix and Danny Perez. Lacroix carried the puck down the right wing side and Housakos moved into some open real estate between the faceoff circles.
Lacroix slid the puck across to him and Housakos’ one-timer squeezed through Huska’s pads with Perez positioned at the top of the crease.
UConn had a potential tying goal waved off less than a minute later because it was ruled that Ojantakanen had interfered with McGovern after taking the initial shot. Ojantakanen slid into him after swiping the rebound into the net.
The Huskies pressed for the equalizer in the third period and carried the play. But McGovern stopped breakaways by Corey Ronan and Freeman.
“McGovern played great in the third period,” said Cavanaugh.
“He was excellent,” agreed Gendron.
Gendron said his team played “pretty well in the first two periods but turned the puck over in the third period.
“We played tentative. We made four cross-ice passes that were picked off,” observed Gendron
Nevertheless, Gendron termed in an “exciting win.”
Cavanaugh felt UMaine carried the play in the first period and there were “ebbs and flows in the second period” with each team having extended stretches of offensive zone possession.
“I was very happy with the way we played in the third period. We deserved to tie the game,” said the former Bowdoin College hockey and football captain and Boston College hockey assistant.
The Huskies lost sophomore defenseman and Buffalo draft pick Philip Nyberg to a leg injury in the first period.