ORONO, Me. — It wasn’t pretty and it might not have been what was planned, but Maine scored four unanswered goals to come back and beat Alabama-Huntsville 4-3 in overtime Friday night.
Spencer Abbott finished with a goal and two assists to push his point total to 43 – tops in the country.
Stu Higgins tallied the game-winner for a much-needed victory.
Entering overtime with all the momentum on their side, the Black Bears completed the comeback in the first minute when a resilient effort by Higgins sealed the victory. After Abbott fired the puck toward the net, Higgins corralled it on his third attempt to beat UAH goalie Clark Saunders.
“I figured I’d [initially] let Abbott have it and it worked out,” Higgins said. “He had a shot out front and the goalie saved it, but I got a lucky bounce, kicked it to my stick and hit it. The goalie was out of position and he couldn’t find the puck through the scrum.”
The Black Bears improve to 15-8-3, including wins in their last five games, while the Chargers drop to 2-25-1.
“The way Alabama played tonight was a hard-nosed, physical hockey game,” Higgins said. “That’s definitely a better team than most people think. We knew if we came out and worked hard it would come out in our favor.”
It was a penalty-filled first period, with six total, five coming from the Chargers. However, it was the Black Bears who were booked first when John Parker was called for cross checking.
After the Black Bears killed off the penalty, they had two chances in a three-minute span on the power play, yet couldn’t convert on either with Saunders’ excellent play in net.
Midway through the period, Alabama-Huntsville’s hustle paid off in the form of a goal after Justin Cseter won the puck in Maine’s defensive zone before finding forward Kyle Lysaght wide open in the slot. Lysaught deked Maine goalie Dan Sullivan and beat him with a nice backhanded shot for his seventh goal of the season.
The Black Bears had three more chances on the power play throughout the period, yet couldn’t find any consistency in their offense. Defender Ryan Hegarty had a great look in the slot, but his slap shot clanked off the crossbar.
Saunders stopped 15 shots in the first period, while the Chargers attempted only three on target.
“I thought we were getting in lanes and clearing rebounds,” Saunders said. “Just doing a good job of keeping Maine to the outside.”
After a stagnant first period, it was expected that the Black Bears would come out fast in the second, but it was the Chargers who stepped on the gas pedal.
The Chargers killed off the second half of a power play to begin the second period before getting two chances of their own on the special teams. While Alabama-Huntsville faltered on those chances, it doubled their lead with less than seven minutes remaining right off a faceoff.
Mac Roy controlled the puck and surprised Sullivan with a quick shot.
The Chargers took a commanding lead into the third period adding another goal with less than four minutes remaining in the second. Cseter added a goal to go along with his assist, beating Sullivan for UAH’s third goal.
“They had the territory, they had every loose puck and they deserved that lead,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “The third period we were able to regroup and tilt the ice back the other way. It was a matter if we got enough bounces to tie it up.”
The Black Bears finally came out aggressive in the third period, getting on the board just over two minutes into the period. After sophomore defender Mat Hagen was booked for a high stick, forward Matt Mangene redirected Abbott’s shot and lit the red lamp for Maine.
“I took a few steps in from the blue line, shot it and Matty screened it and it bounced off his leg,” Abbott said.
Midway through the period, the Black Bears made a game of the matchup when freshman Andrew Cerretani picked up his first collegiate goal. After a barrage of shots by the Black Bears, Cerretani snuck the puck through the back door left open by Saunders.
“You’re always concerned when you’re down 3-0,” Abbott said. “Our guys were frustrated after the first with all those good looks and nothing to show for it. Their goalie played really well and we can’t take anything from them. They probably deserve a better fate.”
Disappointed, the Chargers are planning to takeaway the good from the loss heading into Saturday’s matchup.
“We just need to do mostly the same we were doing for 40-something minutes,” Saunders said. “There’s a lot to take out of tonight.”
The two teams finish the series Saturday at 7 p.m. EST