AMHERST, Mass. — There wasn’t much about Friday’s meeting of Massachusetts and Maine that didn’t play even. For every jarring hit thrown by the Black Bears, the Minutemen countered with one of their own, and for every heart-stopping scoring chance UMass put together, Maine responded in kind.
Fitting, then, that the teams played to a 1-1 draw in front of 6,044 at the Mullins Center.
James Solon scored his second goal of the season in the first period to put the Minutemen (8-2-1, 5-2-1 Hockey East) on top, but the Black Bears (9-2-1, 4-2-1 HEA) held on long enough for Greg Moore to tie things up late in the second period on a breakaway wrist shot.
Deservedly, both goaltenders were named to the three-stars list. Maine’s Jimmy Howard was solid with 22 saves, and many of Gabe Winer’s 24 stops kept the Minutemen in the game, even as the Black Bears swarmed his net.
“Gabe came up huge, the game could have been over in the first 15 minutes, and we have to thank Gabe for reading the situation so well,” UMass coach Don Cahoon said of his sophomore netminder.
Winer’s early work allowed the Minutemen to get away with playing “scrambled eggs,” as Cahoon called it. It also gave Solon the opportunity to take an early lead.
The Minutemen slipped past the Black Bears when Stephen Werner took the puck past the goal line, and just before skating behind Howard’s net, shoveled it back to Solon, who was trailing in front of the crease. He slid a wrister along the ice that beat Howard to make it 1-0 Minutemen.
From there, the Black Bears rallied, and even hit two posts, but Winer remained unfazed until 19:18 of the second, when the wall he had built sprang a leak.
Michelle Leveille sent a beautiful mid-ice pass to Moore, who went in alone on Winer and fired a high wrister from the top of the faceoff circles, knotting the game and taking away some of the momentum the Minutemen had enjoyed during the middle frame.
“I’m happy with the way we played,” Maine coach Tim Whitehead said. “I think a point on the road against Amherst is a hard-fought point. We played hard, and we fought hard to earn the tie, it was a good effort.”
It was the first meeting of the two teams since last season’s Hockey East quarterfinal, where the Minutemen swept Maine in Orono to gain the team’s first-ever berth in the league semis.
Other than Moore’s tally, Winer was stellar, turning aside all manner of attempts, including a penalty shot. Peter Trovato covered up a puck in the crease as the Black Bears swarmed, giving Colin Shields an unabated shot at what would have been the tying goal at 3:18 of the second. But Shields fired a low wrist shot that Winer stopped easily to hold the lead and bring the Mullins Center crowd to its feet.
While Howard wasn’t tested quite as rigorously, he was very capable in turning away the chances the Minutemen came up with, including a pair during the tension-filled five minutes of overtime.
The tie ensured that the Minutemen, who host Vermont Tuesday night, will retain first place in the conference for at least another week. The Black Bears, meanwhile, fall into a tie for third place with New Hampshire, after the Wildcats’ win over Northeastern and second-place Boston College’s victory over Providence. Maine travels to Providence Saturday night.