ORONO – It was something out of a Hollywood script.
The late-blooming Californian who chose hockey over water polo becomes the captain at one of the best college hockey programs in the country and scores the overtime game-winner that caps a dramatic stretch run which gives his team a quarterfinal berth in the league tournament.
But unlike most Hollywood scripts, this didn’t have a happy ending for the Californian and his team as senior defenseman Travis Ramsey’s overtime goal in the 2-1 win over UMass Lowell Saturday night at Alfond Arena didn’t catapult the Bears into the Hockey East playoffs.
UMass captured the eighth and final playoff berth and a date with league champion New Hampshire for a best-of-three quarterfinal series by virtue of a 4-2 victory over Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass., Saturday night.
Despite winning five of their last six games, including their final three games, the Black Bears finished two points behind the Minutemen in ninth place.
Maine wound up 13-18-3 overall, 9-15-3 in Hockey East. UMass Lowell (15-15-4, 10-13-4) will be the seventh seed and will visit No. 2 Boston University for their best-of-three series.
Maine has won the last 12 Alfond meetings with UML and is 14-0-1 in the last 15.
It is only the second time since the inception of the league in 1984-85 that the Black Bears didn’t qualify for the playoffs.
The only previous time was 1996-97 when they were banned from the NCAA Tournament by the NCAA for a variety of violations and Hockey East schools voted to keep them out of the league tourney for fear they might win it and then not be able to move on to the NCAA tournament.
“This is a tough way to go out,” said an emotional Ben Bishop, who made 20 saves including eight of the Grade-A (high-percentage) variety.
“He played well. He’s one of the better goalies in our league,” said UML sophomore goalie Carter Hutton, who finished with 19 saves, including 12 Grade-A’s.
Junior Bishop posted a 1.60 goals-against average and a .947 save percentage over his last eight starts.
“We showed our character and our pride,” said senior left wing Billy Ryan, who had a goal and an assist. “We feel good about winning five out of our last six. It wasn’t good enough but that’s the way life goes.”
“We showed what kind of guys we have on this team,” said Ramsey who noted that the team never quit despite the adversity it has faced.
Maine players missed 79 games due to injury and included on the list were Ryan (9 games) and Keenan Hopson (6), the top two returning scorers among forwards off last year’s team.
Ryan, who was in obvious discomfort as the game wore on due to a stress fracture in his hip which will require surgery within the next two weeks, said he was pleased to see Ramsey get the game-winner.
“He has been an unbelievable captain,” said Ryan.
In addition to his on-ice exploits, Ramsey won the school’s Dean Smith Award for outstanding academic and athletic achievement along with citizenship and community service.
“We can’t be disappointed with how we played. We did what we could to make the playoffs,” said senior right wing Rob Bellamy whose sister, Lindsey, sang the American national anthem before the game.
For the second straight game, Maine spotted the River Hawks the game-opening goal as Ben Holmstrom scored 3:25 into the game.
Ryan drew the Bears level on the power play at the 17:59 mark.
UML appeared to take a 2-1 lead with 11:27 left in the third period when Scott Campbell, parked in the crease, converted a pass from behind the net by Mike Potacco.
But referee Scott Hansen reviewed the goal and nullified it because he ruled that Campbell was in the crease before the puck and impeded Bishop’s ability to make a save.
Both teams had great chances to break the 1-1 tie but Bishop and Hutton were stellar and there were also some near-misses.
“I was very pleased with the team’s performance, especially the seniors,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “It was great to see Ramsey get the game-winner and Billy Ryan score.”
Ramsey, a native of Lakewood, Calif., who was playing in his 131st consecutive game, scored with 2:40 left in overtime on a slap shot from the midpoint.
Simon Danis-Pepin took a pass from Ryan at the right point and took a shot that was blocked by a diving River Hawk.
But the puck came right back to Danis-Pepin and he slid it across to the wide open Ramsey, who had time to take a stride and fire the slapper that beat Hutton between his pads.
“There was a lot of traffic in front. I saw the five-hole and slid it along the ice. I thought maybe [Hutton] wouldn’t see it,” said Ramsey, one of eight seniors who addressed the Seniors Night crowd of 5,160 after the game.
Hutton said, “Chris Auger tried to block it but it deflected off his body and went over my stick and between my pads.”
Holmstrom had started the scoring by one-timing a Kory Falite pass from behind the net off Bishop and into the net.
Ryan tied it with a slapper from the top of the left circle off a Tanner House faceoff win and pass. His slapper glanced in off Hutton’s glove.
BLACK BEARS 2, RIVER HAWKS 1 (OT)
UMass Lowell (15-15-4) 1 0 0 0 – 1
Maine (13-18-3) 1 0 0 1 – 2
First period – 1. UML, Holmstrom 6 (Falite, Blair), 3:25; 2. Maine, Ryan 6 (House), 17:59 (pp). Penalties: UML, Bartelson, high sticking, 15:08; Maine, Tyler, cross checking, 15:08; UML, Falite, hooking, 16:09.
Second period – No scoring. Penalties: UML, Dehner, interference, 8:06.
Third period – No scoring. Penalties: Maine, bench minor for too many men on the ice (served by Boike), 4:18; Maine, Ryan, tripping, 16:13.
Overtime – 3. Maine, Ramsey 4 (Danis-Pepin, Ryan), 2:20. Penalties: none.
Shots on goal: UML 10-6-5-21; Mainme 8-6-5-2-21
Goaltenders: UML, Hutton (21 shots-19 saves); Maine, Bishop (21-20)
Power-play opportunities: UML 0-2, Maine 1-2
High-percentage scoring chances: UML 6-4-5-0-15; Home 8-7-5-1-21