ORONO, Me. — Sometimes it does not matter how you start, but more importantly how you finish.
Despite being 90 seconds away from its third loss of the season, New Hampshire (16-2-1, 7-1-1 Hockey East) received a desperation goal from Shannon Clement as the No. 1 team in America tied Maine 5-5 on Friday night at Alfond Arena in Hockey East play.
“Basically we were all feeling the pressure because this was the toughest situation we have been in all year,” Clement said. “We all crashed the net and we were able to get a rebound and tie the game.”
Although UNH held a 4-2 lead in the early stages of the third period, the surging Black Bears (10-4-5, 2-4-3), led by new addition Patricia Gagnon, scored three consecutive goals to take a stunning 5-4 lead.
Maine’s offensive rebuke began when the Black Bears forced a 5-on-3 just over five minutes into the frame. A few seconds after Maine won the face-off, defensemen Kelly Law and Julie Poulin worked the puck back to Brigitte LaFlamme, who won the face-off and snuck the puck past Bourdon to cut the lead to 4-3.
Then over the next 10 minutes, the Black Bears went from trying to tie the game, to preserving what could have been their first victory over the Wildcats in school history.
With five minutes remaining in the period, both teams were reduced to four-on four. However, that did not stop Gagnon from making her season debut a memorable one. LaFlamme, camped behind the net, found a streaking Gagnon, who sniped a shot to tie the game at 4-4.
“In the third period, coach told us to follow the game plan and that was what we did,” said Gagnon, who missed the first part of the season due to eligibility issues. “This is a moment I have been waiting for and the chemistry with Brigitte and Sonia is always there. I love playing with them.”
Besides giving Maine a chance to get its first conference point of the new year, the goal also gave UNH coach Brian McCloskey the ability to call a time-out to rethink his team’s strategy.
“Going into the period, we had a 4-2 lead and it could have been more but their goalie made a key save,” McCloskey said. “We were not really concerned with momentum shifts because that is a part of college hockey, but we were more concerned with what we needed to do.”
With a raucous crowd, the Black Bears took the momentum and three minutes later, they gave the home crowd even more to cheer about as Vanessa Vani deflected a shot from Kim Meagher to give Maine a 5-4 lead with less than two minutes left.
Even with the momentum on their side, that still did not stop Clement from tying the game more than 30 seconds later. With the game forced into overtime, just looking at the benches gave an idea of where both teams stood.
On the UNH side, McCloskey was looking to do whatever he could to ensure that his team continued its dominance in the Hockey East. As for Maine coach Guy Perron, the atmosphere around his team was more relaxed.
“UNH is a team that can blow other teams out,” Perron said. “This team did not show all of what they had and tomorrow we have to play ten times better because this UNH team is an unbelievable team with some unbelievable players.”
After an opening frame that saw both teams exchange goals, the second period is when goals from Jennifer Hitchcock and Clement catapulted the Wildcats to the 4-2 lead they could not hold.
As in the first period, the Wildcats used an early strike in the second to take the lead. Just under 100 seconds into the period, the Black Bears were caught off guard when passes from Leah Craig and Sadie Wright-Ward found Hitchcock, who slipped the puck past Maine goalie Genevieve Turgeon for the 3-2 lead.
More than 12 minutes later, Clement added her second goal of the game as she recovered a rebound off Hitchcock’s shot to increase the lead to 4-2. The two goal performance not only saw Clement extend her personal goal-scoring streak to five games, but she has garnered a point in eight of her last nine games.
Saturday will see the teams conclude the season series at 3 p.m.