ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine men’s hockey team is a work in progress, and head coach Tim Whitehead said there was definite improvement shown over the weekend as Maine earned a 2-2 overtime tie in Sunday’s exhibition game with the University of New Brunswick after losing a heartbreaker to Quinnipiac University 2-1 on Saturday night.
“It was a very hard-fought game [Sunday] and I’m proud of how we competed,” said Whitehead. “We were more thorough than we were on Saturday night. We took our foot off the gas pedal in the second period a little bit on Saturday night and we paid a price for it.
“[New Brunswick] got the first goal tonight but we kept pressing and pressing and we got some real good chances,” said Whitehead. “And our discipline was good again.”
On Saturday night, junior right wing Jordan Samuels-Thomas, who sat out last season because he transferred to Quinnipiac from Bowling Green, had a memorable debut as he scored with 1:26 remaining in regulation to give the Bobcats a 2-1 win in a mutual season opener.
On Sunday, Chad Denny tied it for UNB two minutes into the third period when his slap shot from the left point “went in off one of their players.”
But his potential game-winning overtime goal was waved off because replay showed it had entered the net after the final buzzer had sounded.
Cam Critchlow opened the scoring for UNB in the first period as he finished off a beautifully executed sequence by tapping a Cody Pridham pass into an empty net.
Kyle Beattie tied it 7:10 later off an assist from freshman Devin Shore as he swept a low shot from the high slot past the left skate of Dan LaCosta.
Shore gave Maine a 2-1 lead in the second period when he positioned himself at the bottom of the right circle and one-timed an Adam Shemansky pass past LaCosta.
“[Shemansky] gave me an unbelievable pass and I think the shot went under [LaCosta’s] glove [into the short-side corner],” said Shore.
LaCosta finished with 31 saves while Martin Ouellette made 14 saves on 15 shots and Matt Morris stopped 13 of 14 shots.
LaCosta finished with 31 saves.
“Our goaltenders were tremendous,” said Whitehead.
On Saturday night, Samuels-Thomas scored off a faceoff win by Jeremy Langlois in the circle to the left of Maine goalie Dan Sullivan.
Samuels-Thomas took a quick wrist shot that hit the body of Sullivan and squeezed through him.
“Last year was a real long year and to score a game-winner in my first game back is a blessing,” said Samuels-Thomas, who was Bowling Green’s leading scorer in each of his two seasons there.
“It was a set play. Jeremy won it back to me and I was just trying to get the puck on net. Luckily, it went in,” said Samuels-Thomas, a native of Windsor, Conn., who grew up 40 minutes away from the Quinnipiac campus in Hamden, Conn.
Sullivan said the shot “caught me by surprise.”
“It was a great faceoff win and a good, hard shot. It caught me by surprise,” Sullivan said. “It went between my [blocker] arm and my body. I got a good chunk of it. I’d like to have that one back.
“It was terrible to see the crowd leaving after that. I’m going to try to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
Maine outshot Quinnipiac 32-18 and had an edge in attempted shots (61-39).
The Bears had more possession in the Quinnipiac zone but the more experienced Bobcats did a nice job protecting senior goalie Eric Hartzell, who made 31 saves including 12 Grade-A’s (high-percentage).
Maine did an equally effective job limiting Quinnipiac’s high-percentage scoring chances. Sullivan finished with 16 saves, of which eight were Grade-A’s.
A pair of freshmen swapped goals over the first two periods as the teams were deadlocked at 1-1.
Center Steven Swavely staked Maine to a 1-0 lead in the first period by scoring off brother Jon’s faceoff win.
Left wing Travis St. Denis equalized in the second period by jamming home a Langlois pass from point-blank range.
Maine had a golden opportunity to regain the lead later in the period by Adam Shemansky but he missed a wide-open net after accepting a pinpoint feed from Stu Higgins on a two-on-one.
“I just missed it. It was unacceptable. Stu gave me a great pass. I have to bury that. If I did, we might have had a better outcome,” said Shemansky.
Maine lost right wing and tri-captain Joey Diamond to a five-minute hitting-from-behind major and a game misconduct penalty at the 10:02 mark of the middle period.
“I saw it on tape and that wasn’t Joey’s fault,” Whitehead said. “[Bobcat defenseman Mike Dalhuisen] spun quickly at the last second [just before Diamond hit him]. A two-minute penalty would have been more appropriate but the referees did a good job. It was a judgment call and I accept it. I’m not complaining about it,” said Whitehead.
Whitehead was satisfied with his team’s performance.
“We had more scoring chances by a pretty significant margin but that’s the way the game goes sometimes,” said Whitehead. “Quinnipiac did a nice job staying in the game. We had several golden opportunities to take the lead or extend it.
“I was pleased with the freshmen. I thought they all contributed,” added Whitehead, who had five in the lineup: center Steven Swavely, left wings Conor Riley and Shore, right wing Will Merchant and defenseman Ben Hutton.