ORONO, Maine — It is never a bad decision to shoot the puck on goal, especially on the penalty kill.
Senior left wing Corey Ronan’s crucial shorthanded goal in the third period from a near-impossible angle, coming just 26 seconds after the University of Maine had scored to pull within 3-1, sealed the University of Connecticut’s 5-1 Hockey East victory at Alfond Arena in Orono Saturday afternoon.
Both teams are now 1-1. UMaine won the opener 4-3 in overtime Friday night.
Sophomore goaltender Adam Houska had frustrated the Black Bears, especially in the second period, but the Black Bears finally broke through 1:12 into the third period when Brendan Robbins beat him with a 20-foot wrister to the blocker side off a Rob Michel assist.
It came during a delayed penalty so the Black Bears went on the power play after the goal.
But Ronan hunted the puck down in the offensive zone, evaded a few checkers, and fired the puck toward the net from the extended goal line to the left of UMaine freshman goalie Jeremy Swayman. The puck somehow squeezed past Swayman on the short side.
“The game turned on Corey’s shorthanded goal,” Connecticut coach Mike Cavanaugh said. “That kind of deflated them a little bit and we were able to hold on for the win. It was certainly initiated by Corey hustling down the ice, winning a puck battle and throwing the puck on net. Maybe it was time for Corey to get one. He had a couple breakaways on the weekend and some great chances but the goalies made some saves. Every now and then, you throw the puck on net and you get a bounce and he certainly got one then.”
“Stuff like that happens,” Maine coach Red Gendron said. “It was Jeremy’s first college game. He got surprised. I know he wants to have that one back. He doesn’t need his head coach or his goalie coach [Alfie Michaud] telling him he needs to be more alert. He knows already.”
Karl El-Mir added an empty-net goal with 2:10 left.
UConn had parlayed a pair of power play goals and the outstanding goaltending of Houska into a 3-0 lead through two periods.
Fortuitous bounces off two deflected shots from the point by junior defenseman Miles Gendron resulted in late first-period goals 2:47 apart by Derek Pratt and Alexander Payusov to provide the Huskies with a lead they would never relinquish.
Payusov’s goal came on the power play.
Max Letunov scored a second-period power play goal against the run of play as UMaine dominated the period.
“We put [Friday night’s loss] behind us and played an excellent first period,” Cavanaugh said. “I was proud of the way we responded.
“Halfway through the second period, it was all Maine. They kept us hemmed in. But you expect that. A Red Gendron team isn’t going to quit. They’re going to keep coming at you. Adam made some big saves to hold us in it.”
“We played pretty well in the second and third periods but we weren’t able to finish off too many plays,” Gendron said. “We needed to get back into the game sooner.”
UMaine sophomore center and captain Chase Pearson concurred with his coach.
“We were jumping on pucks and spent the majority of the time in their end in the second and third periods. But you have those games when you run into a hot goalie and that was one of them tonight,” Pearson said.
Gendron pulled Swayman in favor of an extra attacker with 7:49 remaining in the third period and the Black Bears continued to swarm the UConn net.
But Houska was sharp and his teammates did a nice job in front of him until El-Mir scored.
“They had a lot of time in our zone but they didn’t get many pucks to the net because we did a really good job taking away the passing lanes and shooting lanes,” Cavanaugh said.
Pratt opened the scoring at the 14:58 mark of the first period when Gendron’s shot from the left point bounced over to him at the bottom of the right circle and he swatted the puck softly into the far corner for his second career goal in 107 games.
Payusov extended the lead when Gendron’s point shot was blocked and landed on his stick in front of an empty net at the far post.
UMaine’s best chance came early in the period when freshman Eduards Tralmaks broke in alone on Huska. He pulled the puck to the backhand side but didn’t get a lot on his shot and Houska slid across and made a comfortable save with his left pad.
Letunov made it 3-0 at the 6:10 mark of the second period following a wild multiple-shot flurry in front of the net. UMaine defenseman Michel blocked one of the shots before Letunov snapped a 15-footer inside the near post from the right faceoff circle.
Houska finished with 38 saves in a stellar performance including 15 Grade-A (high-percentage) stops. Swayman wound up with 26 of which seven were Grade-A’s.
UMaine attempted 83 shots to UConn’s 55 and had 31 Grade-A attempts to UConn’s 15 including a 23-6 edge over the final two periods.
UConn went 2-for-3 on the power play while UMaine went 0-for-4.
Gendron had three assists and Johnny Austin had two for UConn. Letunov had an assist to go with his goal.
UMaine will entertain Miami of Ohio on Oct. 20-21.