DURHAM, N.H. — Spectators who got there late really did miss something.
A scoreless tie between Maine and New Hampshire invalidated that old, hackneyed joke: “The score is still 0-0? Great! I didn’t miss a thing.”
With valuable points in the Hockey East race at stake, not to mention bragging rights in this heavyweight rivalry, tension hung in the air during a contest that provided plenty of drama all by itself.
Maine dominated the opening 10 minutes while New Hampshire controlled the latter part of regulation. In between, the two clubs staked their claims as two of the best defensive teams in the country backstopped by two of the best goalies, Matt Yeats and Ty Conklin.
As a result, UNH (13-4-4, 4-2-3 HEA) recorded its second straight shutout while Maine (9-6-5, 4-3-3 HEA) proved that holding Cornell to only 12 shots last weekend in the Everblades Classic championship game was no fluke.
“What really excites me is that we did it against a very good hockey club that is ranked number six in the country,” said Maine coach Shawn Walsh. “[We did it] in their own rink in a great atmosphere where they were really jacked up.”
The scoreless tie, once a rarity, marked the third occurrence within the league in a month.
“The game turned out exactly how I thought it would: a battle,” said UNH coach Dick Umile. “They got the best of us in the first. I thought we got the best of them in the third. And the second was probably even.
“It’s a carry-over like in golf. It’s a carry-over into [Saturday] night. … It’ll be another 60 minutes. Or 65.”
Despite the lack of scoring, the first period included the intensity that has become associated with this rivalry. UNH’s Eric Lind and Maine’s Gray Shaneberger swapped thundering hits, the latter dumping a Wildcat over the boards into his own bench.
The offense didn’t suffer either, at least from Maine’s perspective, despite the scoreboard’s verdict. After the first 10 minutes, the Black Bears had outshot UNH, 11-1. Chief among the opportunities were a Tommy Reimann rebound attempt of a Niko Dimitrakos end-to-end rush, a Reimann and Todd Jackson two-on-one and a Robert Liscak shot from in close off the lone power play.
Conklin was sharp, however, and the Grade A opportunities diminished over the second half of the period.
“We weren’t getting outskated as much as we were getting outmuscled down low,” said Umile. “They were beating us with stickhandling. We were going for their fakes and they were beating us one-on-one. Then we got back to taking the body in the second period.
“It’s comforting that we have Ty Conklin.”
The Wildcats generated their best chances of the second stanza on their two power plays, especially a one-timer by Matt Swain. The Black Bears, however, were continuing the stellar defensive play that had relegated almost all UNH chances to the periphery.
Maine’s best chance of the second period came on a UNH odd-man rush that got broken up at the blue line and transitioned into a three-on-two for the Black Bears. Mike Mantenuto carried behind the net, but Conklin made the stop on the wraparound.
UNH retaliated with its best even-strength chance of the game, a Jim Abbott and Colin Hemingway two-on-one, but Yeats made the stop on Hemingway in front.
Many of the best scoring opportunities for both sides, however, went awry as passes didn’t connect or came too late because of a mishandled dribble.
Nonetheless, the excitement continued into the third period with the feeling that the first goal might well be the last. Maine generated the best chances early, first off a Jackson to Lawson feed in front and then off a Kevin Clauson wraparound. Conklin, however, remained up to the challenge.
Even so, when the Black Bears then went on the power play it seemed likely that with the momentum and then the man advantage, they would get their best chance to break through. Instead, UNH’s penalty kill excelled and Maine didn’t seriously threaten.
A strong Jim Abbott rush at 6:30 resulted in a nice Yeats save and then led to about a minute of solid UNH pressure. However, that was thwarted by another penalty.
After another excellent kill, the Wildcats continued to put the pressure on Yeats, first in the form of a save on Darren Haydar and then another on Abbott in the slot. The territorial dominance continued until a surprisingly borderline penalty was called on Maine with 46.9 seconds remaining after it had appeared that referee Jeff Bunyon had put away his whistle.
Following a Martin Kariya shorthanded rush and backhander, UNH got the puck back into the offensive zone and added shots until the buzzer sounded, signifying the end of regulation.
For the period, the New Hampshire outshot Maine, 14-5, to even the three-period shots at 26-26.
In overtime, Maine killed off the remaining 1:14 on the penalty and, seemingly having regained its legs, made the rest of the overtime an even game. Abbott took a pass from Hemingway after an odd bounce off the side boards, but shot wide. Dimitrakos countered with a backhander from the slot.
Darren Haydar then opted for creativity when faced with a long shot through a screen. He feathered a soft change-up through the wall of bodies. Although Yeats made the stop, Haydar scored artistic points for subtlety.
“I marveled at that shot,” said Walsh. “That was a purposefully soft shot by a goalscorer. … He took that shot and I chuckled on the bench. I thought, that little sonuvagun! Who’s got the poise to do that?”
One last great opportunity remained, however. With 11 seconds left in overtime, Maine suddenly broke in three-on-one, but Conklin made the save on Lawson.
“When the home opposing goalie is handed the No. 1 star, you know your team played a pretty damned good game,” said Walsh. “It was tremendous intensity. I’m really pleased with how our team is taking shape. We’re a dangerous hockey team.”
The teams meet again at the Whittemore Center on Saturday.
“I thought we got better every period,” said Conklin. “Hopefully, we can carry that into [Saturday] night.”