Both Maine and Denver got the puck in the net on a first-period power play in the national championship game Saturday night at the FleetCenter.
Only Denver’s counted.
Top-line center Gabe Gauthier was the recipient of a great pass from Connor James and put a shot past Maine goaltender Jimmy Howard to give Denver a 1-0 lead that lasted through the second period of the final college hockey game of the season.
Through 40 minutes, the Black Bears held a 15-10 advantage in shots on goal, but the Pioneers, underdogs all the way in this tournament, gained the upper hand in their quest for the program’s sixth national championship but first since 1969.
James battled in the left corner to win the puck, found a passing lane and got it past the outstretched stick of Maine defenseman Prestin Ryan to Gauthier, who was open in the slot. Gauthier fired a shot through Howard’s pads at 12:26 of the first to give the Pioneers the lead.
Maine appeared to get the game’s first goal on a power play just over five minutes into the opening period when Black Bears center Derek Damon stuffed a deflected shot past Denver goalie Adam Berkhoel and inside the left post.
But the automatic review that is given to all goals by a NCAA replay official found Maine’s Mike Hamilton had part of his skate in the crease before the puck went into the paint, and the goal was waved off.
Maine outshot Denver 6-4 in the first period. The 10 combined shots tied for the second-fewest in the first period of a title game, matching 1987 and trailing only the 1996 game, which had eight.
In the second period, Berkhoel was the difference for the Pioneers. He stopped nine shots, including a pair of blocker saves on a Maine power play midway through the period. At one point, the Black Bears had a string of seven straight shots on goal.
The senior has 15 saves through two periods. Howard, who has the best goals against average and save percentage in the nation, has nine stops.
Denver, which was playing without third-leading scorer Lukas Dora, is 1-for-3 on the power play; Maine is 0-for-4.
About 90 minutes before the opening faceoff, a Denver spokesman announced the team had suspended senior forward Dora for an unspecified violation of team policy. Dora scored the winning goal in the third period of a 5-3 victory over Minnesota-Duluth in Thursday’s national semifinal.
The Lednice, Czech Republic, native has 36 points, 14 of them from goals. Junior Jeff Drummond moved from the left wing on Gauthier’s line to Dora’s spot on the right alongside Luke Fulghum and Max Bull. James, who was in his second game back from a broken right fibula, joined Gauthier’s top line, with Greg Keith on the right.
Ted O’Leary replaced Dora in the lineup and joined the fourth line of Adrian Veideman and J.D. Corbin.
The crowd of 18,597 is the largest to see a hockey game at the FleetCenter, home of the NHL’s Boston Bruins.