ORONO, Maine — In a season opener with the classic elements of a Friday the 13th, Maine freshman Todd Jackson scored his first collegiate goal at 7:11 of the third period to give the Black Bears a 1-1 tie with North Dakota at Alfond Arena.
The contest began with a broadcaster’s nightmare: North Dakota skated out with every player bearing the name “Walsh” on his sweater. The gesture was a tribute to Maine head coach Shawn Walsh, in California receiving treatment in his battle with kidney cancer, and the sweaters were given to the Coaches Foundation for auction after the game.
After the horn, this game belonged to the goaltenders. Maine’s Matt Yeats and North Dakota’s Karl Goehring not only kept their teams in the game, they battled an eerie fog throughout much of the third period and overtime while doing so.
“Both goaltenders were outstanding,” said Maine defenseman A.J. Begg. “They didn’t give up any rebounds and gave each team a chance to win.”
After battling to a scoreless tie after two periods, the Fighting Sioux went on top early in the third period.
In the first minute of the final period Black Bear defenseman Doug Janik was whistled for a hooking minor. Thirty seconds into the power play, forward Ryan Bayda took a Bryan Lundbohm feed at the base of the right circle and beat Yeats high to the stick side, giving the Fighting Sioux a 1-0 lead.
“There was a lot of traffic in front,” said Yeats. When it cleared, he (Bayda) was there with the puck on his stick. I just couldn’t get to it.”
Six minutes later, a Fighting Sioux mistake in their own zone led to the tying score.
Sioux junior defenseman Aaron Schneekloth gathered the puck in the corner and attempted to push the puck through the circle. Jackson knocked the puck down and skated in two-on-none with Tom Reimann.
“I think he thought I was going to give it up,” said Jackson. “He leaned toward Tommy and gave me the short side.” Goehring confirmed that, saying, “The other guy called for the puck and I leaned a bit; he found the open spot.”
From there on out, the teams engaged in a furious end-to-end free-for-all. Yeats and Goehring were up to the task. Goehring was particularly outstanding at the end of regulation and in the closing seconds of overtime. In the last ten seconds of the extra frame, the Sioux senior kicked out a blistering slapshot by Black Bear forward Dan Kerluke from the right circle and a wrister by Kerluke from close range.
“The fog made the first save tough,” said Goehring. “I couldn’t see the puck real well and by the time I did, it was on his stick.”
The second save was more a product of defensive help, according to Goehring. “Ryan Hale did a great job there,” he said. “He lifted his (Kerluke’s) stick at the last minute and he didn’t get anything on that shot.”
Sioux head coach Dean Blais was proud of his goaltender’s performance.
“He’s been that way since he’s gotten here,” said Blais. His goals against are low and he always gives us a chance to win.”
Maine began the evening on fire, pressuring the Sioux with a smothering forecheck and racking up a 9-0 margin in shots over the game’s first four minutes.
“We knew they’d come out fired up,” said Goehring. “We just tried to weather the storm.”
But with Goehring’s help, the Sioux were able to keep the game scoreless and eventually they settled down.
“The first five minutes we had trouble with them,” Blais noted. “After that, I think it was a pretty even hockey game.”
Maine interim head coach Gene Reilly was pleased with the overall effort. “We played pretty well defensively,” he said. “This early, you expect some mistakes, but we covered our zones well.”
Reilly, behind the Maine bench until Walsh returns from California, did see some areas that the Black Bears will work on.
“Our special teams didn’t play well tonight,” he said. “We will need to be more consistent in that area. When you have some big guns, it usually clicks early, but we don’t have that right now and we’ll need to find a way.”
Maine played without junior forward and power-play standout Niko Dimitrakos, shelved with a broken wrist until November. The team was also dealing with the absence of freshman Colin Shields as the NCAA has declared the Glasgow, Scotland, native ineligible for the season due to courses he took at a junior college.
“It’s tough to lose a kid of that caliber,” said Reilly. “But this is hockey — you move on.”
The last two NCAA champions will complete their two-game set in Orono on Saturday night at Alfond Arena.