University of Connecticut senior center and captain Ben Freeman of Falmouth had a nice homecoming at Alfond Arena in Orono on Friday night.
Freeman’s goal with 9:21 remaining snapped a 2-2 tie and gave the Huskies a 3-2 Hockey East victory that halted the University of Maine’s five-game winning streak and 15-game Alfond Arena unbeaten streak (13-0-2).
Tomas Vomacka made 24 saves for UConn (12-12-4 overall, 9-7-2 HE) and Jeremy Swayman had 33 stops for UMaine (15-10-4, 9-8-3 HE).
The two teams conclude their series at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
UConn is 4-0-1 in its last five games against UMaine.
Freeman also provided two assists as he and linemates Carter Turnbull (3 assists) and Alexander Payusov (1 goal, 1 assist) shone for the Huskies. Freshman defenseman Jake Flynn scored the other goal.
“That’s a good line,” said UMaine senior center and assistant captain Tim Doherty. “They’re really good on the offensive grinds. They were getting pucks to the net and then crashing bodies to the net. We’ve got to find ways to box out better.”
Freeman said Turnbull made a great play to get him the puck on the game-winner.
“He found me out front. It was kind of bobbling and I just waited until I saw the goalie out of the net and I put it in,” said Freeman who roofed the puck over Swayman, who had lunged out and was on his stomach.
The 6-foot-5, 215-pound Freeman said the most important thing was to get the win. He had nearly 20 family members and friends in attendance.
“It’s always a lot of fun [playing in Orono]. I tried to put a little extra in for them,” Freeman said.
UConn used goals 5:52 apart by Flynn and senior right wing Payusov to build a 2-0 lead in the first period.
But the Black Bears tied it up in the second period on Doherty’s power-play goal and an even-strength tally by senior left wing and Niagara University transfer Sam Rennaker.
UConn dominated all phases of the game in the first period. The Huskies, who outshot UMaine 12-4 and generated 27 shot attempts to the hosts’ nine, were a step quicker and won virtually all of the puck battles while spending most of the period in UMaine’s end.
“We had a good start, a really good first period,” UConn coach Mike Cavanaugh said. “[Maine] carried the play in the second period. The third period was even. Ben was able to make a play to put us up 3-2. And Tomas made some pretty big saves late.”
Turnbull created the opportunity for Flynn by taking a pass from Freeman, darting across the low slot to gain separation from UMaine defenseman Jakub Sirota and snapping an open 20-foot wrist shot.
Swayman made the save but Flynn swept home the rebound for the first goal of his career.
The second goal was the result of an impressive extended forecheck by the Freeman line.
Turnbull had the puck behind the net to the left of Swayman and made a short pass to Payusov in the low slot and his low one-timer slipped through Swayman for his eighth of the season.
It extended Payusov’s goal-scoring streak against the Black Bears to five games.
Doherty cut the lead in half at the 8:00 mark of the second period at the expense of college hockey’s second-worst penalty-killing team (71.9 percent).
Mitch Fossier carried the puck and slid it over to Veli-Matti Tiuraniemi at the top of the left circle. He quickly fired it back across to the top of the right circle where Doherty one-timed it past Vomacka.
It was Doherty’s team-leading 14th goal of the season and his sixth on the power play, which also leads the team.
UConn had an apparent goal nullifed a few minutes later because it was ruled that a player, sitting in the UMaine crease, imepeded Swayman’s opportunity to make a save.
Rennaker tied it with his fifth goal 11:53 later.
Sirota cleverly stickhandled in the offensive zone before snapping the puck to the net front where Rennaker deflected it home.
“We needed to be better, for sure, in the first period and we needed to be better in a lot of areas of the game,” UMaine coach Red Gendron said. “Lesson learned, move forward. We didn’t do anything right. They forced us into some mistakes. “
The Black Bears’ play in the second and third periods could not overcome the early deficit.
“We can’t let them get up 2-0 in the first place,” Doherty said. “They’re a hard team to play against. They set the tone in the first. They hound on the puck battles. They outworked us in some situations and beat us.”