NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. – University of Maine junior center Marcus Gustafsson said he wishes they celebrated Christmas in July.
Last season, he began playing regularly after Christmas and put up some impressive numbers: 22 points in 24 games.
On Friday night, Gustafsson was the unlikely hero with the overtime game-winner that gave the Bears a wild 7-6 win over Merrimack.
It was his first goal since he scored twice in a 7-2 win over Northeastern last Jan. 24.
The fact he scored with a rebound backhander off a Cory Larose shot after two Merrimack defensemen collided during a line change seemed an appropriate ending to a strange game.
“I thought the goalie [Cris Classen] went off the ice or something. I heard people screaming,” said Gustafsson. “Out of the corner of my eye, I saw two guys laying on the ice. I saw Cory cut across and take the shot so I thought I’d go for the rebound. The goalie went out, the puck bounced right to me on my backhand side. I had a little angle but basically I had the whole net.”
Gustafsson scored with a new stick that wasn’t backhand-friendly.
“I had told Cory that my backhand wasn’t what it used to be with my old sticks. Then this happens,” grinned Gustafsson. “This was the biggest goal in my Maine career and it was definitely up there among goals I’ve scored in my whole career. I feel I’ve got my confidence back. It’s fun to play again.”
The game featured five power-play goals, two shorthanders and 97 shots on goal.
“This was a saga,” said Gustafsson.
Maine lost the services of senior tri-captains Brian White (leaving the bench during an altercation) and Shawn Wansborough (spearing) with 8:18 left in regulation. They received majors and game disqualifications.
“We lost two of our best players but a lot of guys had to step up and they did. That’s why it was such a great win,” said junior tri-captain Steve Kariya.
Merrimack had all the momentum going into overtime as Martin Laroche’s goal with 44 seconds left capped a three-goal rally in the final 10:03.
“Two guys bump into each other on a line change. Imagine that! You may never see that happen again,” said Merrimack coach Ron Anderson. “That’s just the way it goes.”
Maine received first-period goals from Bobby Stewart, Jason Price and Ben Guite to offset a Jayson Philbin goal.
David Cullen and Scott Parmentier scored second-period goals for Maine but Casey Kesselring and Rejan Stringer answered for Merrimack. Wansborough made it 6-3 before Laroche’s shorthander and Stringer’s power play goal preceded Laroche’s tying goal.
Maine goalie Alfie Michaud made a career-high 51 saves.
“He was phenomenal. Without him, we would have had the two points,” said Stringer.
Bears 7, Warriors 6, OT
(Friday Night) Maine(9-7-2) 3 2 1 1 – 7 Merrimack(7-11-1) 1 2 3 0 – 6
First period: 1. Maine, Stewart 4 (Kariya, Wansborough), 4:51; 2. Merrimack, Philbin 5 (Clevenger, Cohen), 6:52, pp; 3. Maine, Price 1 (White, kariya), 9:59; 4. Maine, Guite 4 (Tate), 11:05. Penalties – Maine, Trattnig, interference, 6:21.
Second period: 5. Maine, Cullen 6 (Larose, Kariya), 1:50, pp; 6. Merrimack, Kesselring 9 (Laroche, Cohen), 6:46; 7. Maine, Parmentier 9 (Stewart), 9:32, sh; 8. Merrimack, Stringer 5 (Kesselring), 17:57, pp. Penalties – Merrimack, Scoville, holding, :32; Maine, Wansborough, slashing, 7:39; Merrimack, Stringer, interference, 10:35; Merrimack, Hale, hitting after the whistle, 11:57; Maine, Wansborough, hitting after the whistle, 11:57; Merrimack, T. White, tripping, 13:57; Maine, Trattnig, high sticking, 17:06; Merrimack, Laroche, roughing, 19:24; Maine, Wansborough, slashing, 19:24.
Third period: 9. Maine, Wansborough 10 (Keruke, Lundback), 5:36, pp; 10. Merrimack, Laroche 12 (unassisted), 9:57, sh; 11. Merrimack, Stringer 6 (Scoville), 15:53, pp; 12. Merrimack, Laroche 13 (Scoville), 19:16. Penalties – Maine, Ek, tripping, 2:56; Merrimack, Scoville, elbowing, 5:20; Maine, Kariya, interference, 7:20; Merrimack, Kovalsky, unsportsmanlike conduct, 9:43; Merrimack, Scoville, interference, 10:40; Maine, Wansborough, five-minute major for spearing and game disqualification, 11:42; Maine, B. White, five-minute major for leaving the bench and game disqualification, 11:42; Merrimack, Rodrigues, five-minute major for fighting and game disqualification, 11:42; Maine, bench minor on Coach Walsh (served by Trattnig), 11:42.
Overtime: 13. Maine, Gustafsson 1 (Larose), 1:20. Penalties – none.
Shots on goal: Maine 12-17-9-2 – 40; Merrimack 21-9-26-1 – 57.
Goaltenders: Maine, Alfie Michaud; Merrimack, Cris Classen.
Power-play opportunities: Maine 2-5, Merrimack 3-8
High percentage scoring attempts: Maine 10-11-4-1-26; Merrimack 12-6-18-0-36