ORONO, Maine — Senior captain Ed McGrane tallied two goals and an assist while freshman Dominic Smart made a career-high 29 saves, and Massachusetts-Lowell came back from two two-goal deficits to tie No. 1 Maine 4-4 Saturday evening in front of 5,362 at Alfond Arena.
The Black Bears staved off their first loss at Alfond in 28 games, preserving their undefeated streak (23-0-5).
“It’s really the way that we have played all season,” said head coach Blaise MacDonald. “We haven’t had the good fortune of being up in many games this season, but we’ve had to test ourselves physically and mentally to get back into the game. In a building and an atmosphere like this, playing against the number-one team in the nation, it just proves how good of a team we have and how far we’ve come.”
Maine controlled the early tempo, outshooting UML 7-2 at one point. The Black Bears broke the scoreless tie at 7:23 with the first of two four-on-four goals for Maine in the period.
Francis Nault sent a cross-ice pass to Todd Jackson at the right side doorstep, and Jackson lifted the puck past Smart before he could recover to make it 1-0 Black Bears.
The Black Bears made it 2-0 exactly 40 seconds later. Chris Heisten stole the puck in neutral ice and skated into the River Hawk zone while fighting off a defender. Smart made an aggressive move in hope of preventing a second tally, but the force of two skaters coming towards him was able to squeak the puck into the net at 8:03 after a collision in the slot.
Maine seemed to cruise the rest of the period until the Black Bears took a late penalty on which UML capitalized. McGrane rifled a shot from the point into traffic in front of Maine netminder Frank Doyle, and linemate Steve Slonina got just enough of the puck to redirect it over the shoulder of Doyle at 17:58, cutting the Maine lead to 2-1.
UML tied the contest with only seconds remaining in the period when freshman sensation Andrew Martin scored his eighth goal of the season after skating into the slot with the puck and making a nice move, at 19:15.
After being outshot in the early going, the River Hawks skated into the first intermission with the advantage, 14-12.
Maine regained its two-goal lead with a pair of goals in under a minute’s time. At 3:51 Lucas Lawson scored his 12th goal of the season after skating in along the left dasher and shooting a puck on net that somehow found its way between the leg of Smart and the post to make it 3-2.
Robert Liscak finished off the Black Bear scoring in the period at 4:19 after skating in from the right side faceoff dot and beating Smart five-hole.
The River Hawks regrouped once again. UML cut the Maine lead to one when McGrane collected a rebound just below the right circle and put it over Doyle to make it 4-3 Maine at 7:54, the River Hawks’ second power-play goal of the game.
McGrane tied the game at 7:23 of the third after senior Mark Concannon picked up a loose puck in neutral ice and fed it to McGrane, whose shot from the left side of the Black Bear zone went five-hole on Doyle.
Both teams had quality opportunities in the overtime, but stellar goaltending kept the game tied at four.
Smart made 29 saves in net for the River Hawks, while Doyle stopped 30 shots. UML saw some of its best production on the power play of late, going 2-for-5, while the Black Bears were 0-for-4.
Next Tuesday UMass-Lowell (9-14-2, 2-12-1 HE) will battle with Merrimack in round two for control of the Merrimack Valley, while Maine (20-2-4, 10-1-3 HE) plays a pair of games this weekend against New Hampshire, with the first meeting scheduled for Saturday at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, N.H.