ESTERO, Fla. — It was the unlikeliest of scenarios.
But the University of Maine’s men’s hockey team, the lowest-scoring team in college hockey, scored five unanswered goals against the 10th stingiest team in the nation to erase a three-goal deficit and beat Cornell University 6-4 in the championship game of the Florida College Classic on Saturday.
The Black Bears (4-11-2), who became the first team to win back-to-back Florida College Classic titles, has its first two-game winning streak of the season.
Cornell, ranked 11th in the country, fell to 7-4-2.
Maine has now won six Florida College Classics in the 13-year existence of the tournament, including three of the last four.
The Black Bears, whose previous high for goals in a game this season was four (twice), used a first-period goal from Mike Cornell and second-period goals from tournament Most Valuable Player Kyle Beattie, Mark Anthoine and Devin Shore to take a 4-3 lead.
Connor Leen’s power-play goal with 1:25 left in the third period made it 5-3 before Greg Miller scored 22 seconds later to pull the Big Red within one.
But Ryan Lomberg sewed it up with an empty-net goal with 43 seconds left.
“It was a great win. Everyone contributed,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “We scored goals a lot of different ways — off the rush, in traffic — and that’s something we hadn’t done this season. We had to fight through a lot. I’m really proud of the guys.”
Beattie said even though they were down 3-1 after the first period, “we knew we could come back. We felt confident. We felt we had played well in the first period. That first goal was a big goal. It got us back into it.”
“We never felt we were out of it because we were outplaying them,” said Leen. “We had a little more jump in our step.”
“The guys kept chipping away,” said Whitehead.
John Esposito, Erik Axell and John McCarron staked Cornell to a 3-0 lead and Maine goalie Martin Ouellette was replaced by freshman Matt Morris 10:33 into the game.
Whitehead said Morris made a critical save in the first period when he squeezed his arm against his body on a quick shot from the slot.
Defenseman Cornell started the comeback at the 12:03 mark of the first period with a shot from the point that beat Cornell goalie Andy Iles.
Beattie made it 3-2 at 8:31 of the second period when he directed a Leen pass behind Iles from point-blank range and Anthoine tied it on the power play 1:04 later by deflecting a Cornell shot past Isles.
Shore gave Maine the lead for good with 3:06 left in the period.
Whitehead described it as a “highlight-reel goal.” It came off a three-on-two with linemates Beattie and Leen.
“Connor cut across (the slot) and made a back pass to Kyle, who one-touched it over to me,” said Shore. “I happened to be in the right spot. There’s no way I wasn’t going to bury it after those two unbelievable passes in a row. I was able to put it over (Iles’) blocker into the far side.”
Beattie and Leen each had two assists to go with their goals, giving the line three goals and four assists.
“We played together during the preseason and played pretty well together. That translated into tonight’s game,” said Leen, whose late third-period goal came off a Jake Rutt point shot “that glanced off my thigh and over the goalie’s shoulder.”
After Miller beat Morris to make it 5-4, Steven Swavely cleared the puck out of the Maine zone and Lomberg was able to chase it down and send it into the net vacated by Iles in favor of the extra attacker.
Cornell and Anthoine had one assist apiece to accompany their goals.
Morris finished with 22 saves to post his second win after Ouellette had allowed three goals on six shots.
“He really stepped up,” said Leen. “He was so steady. He gave us a lot of confidence.”
“The team played so well in front of me,” said Morris. “They did a great job keeping the shots to the outside. They made my job a whole lot easier. I was happy with the way I played but I’m happier with the win because that’s all that matters at the end of the day.”
John D’Agostino had three assists for Cornell and McCarron had one to go with his goal.
Iles wound up with 26 saves.
Maine outshot Cornell 32-29.
Maine scored two power-play goals in four chances. It was the first time this season that he Black Bears scored more than one in a game. They also killed off all three Cornell power plays.
“It feels awesome. To come back and score five straight goals is unbelievable,” said Shore, who was chosen for the all-tourney team along with Morris and Beattie.
Beattie called his MVP award “cool.
“A lot of good guys have won it before me and it’s an honor to have my name on a trophy named after Shawn Walsh,” said Beattie, referring to the late Black Bear coach who died of complications from kidney cancer in 2001.