ORONO – Center Keif Orsini and left wing Robby Dee hadn’t appeared in a game for the University of Maine men’s hockey team since Oct. 31. Both had been healthy scratches for the Bears.
But they were inserted into the lineup Saturday and combined on the game-tying goal with 5:46 remaining as the Bears rallied for a 1-1 overtime tie with Merrimack College.
Maine had its six-game winning streak halted but extended its unbeaten streak to seven games. Maine is 7-3-1 overall, 4-2-1 in Hockey East, and has held its opponents to two goals or less in eight straight contests.
Merrimack, now 0-17-2 in its last 19 games at Alfond Arena, is 3-6-3, 1-5-2 (HE).
Scoring opportunities were scarce as both teams turned in exceptional defensive performances in front of freshman goalies and summer workout partners Scott Darling and Joe Cannata.
Maine’s Darling finished with 23 saves, including five on Grade-A (high-percentage) shots, while Cannata ended up with 16 saves, of which three were on Grade-A attempts.
Each team blocked 14 shots in front of their goalies.
Francois Ouimet’s second-period goal off a puck-handling mistake by Darling looked like it was going to stand up until Orsini netted the equalizer by tipping home Will O’Neill’s shot from the left point.
“Robby made a strong play behind the net, beat his man and put the puck up to Will,” said Orsini. “Will was able to get his shot past his guy. It was going a little wide of the near side and I just put my stick out and the puck sneaked through [Cannata’s] five-hole.”
“They had blocked a lot of shots the whole series, so I faked the shot, my guy [covering him] bit on it and went down and Keif did a great job tipping it,” said O’Neill.
“I saw it at the last second,” said Cannata. “It was going wide, but [Orsini] got his stick on it and it went right through my legs.”
“I was real happy for Keith. He played an exceptional game and that was one great play among his many,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead.
“It was nice to be back in the lineup, especially at home. It’s even better when you contribute,” said Orsini.
Darling preserved the tie with a terrific right pad save off defenseman Fraser Allan’s one-timer from the middle of the high slot off an Elliott Sheen pass with just over a minute remaining in regulation.
“I thought it was going in,” said Allan.
“I saw it. There wasn’t any traffic in front,” said Darling. “I extended my leg and it hit off my right pad.”
Ouimet scored with 5:43 left in the second period.
“I was trying to throw the puck around the boards, but I whiffed on it and it deflected off the boards right in front,” said Darling. “I got back in the net, but I slid too far and the puck went back past my far side.”
“I think he dove, but I pushed it on net and it went in,” said Ouimet.
Whitehead said he was disappointed they couldn’t complete the weekend sweep – Maine won 2-1 on Friday night – but added, “We’re pleased to get three of four points from a team that played as well as Merrimack. I was really impressed with how they played. Their team defense is very, very strong.”
“They protect their net better than any team we’ve played,” said Orsini.
“We played a pretty good road game in a very difficult environment against a team that is much improved over last year,” said Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy.
Linesman Greg Dumais suffered a knee injury in the first period and didn’t return.
BLACK BEARS 1, WARRIORS 1 (OT)
Merrimack (3-6-3) 0 1 0 0 – 1
Maine (7-3-1) 0 0 1 0 – 1
First period – No scoring. Penalties: Maine, Duffy, tripping, 3:33; Mmk, Allan, tripping, 3:43; Mmk, Ricci, interference, 4:44.
Second period – 1. Mmk, Ouimet 3 (Kimball), 14:07. Penalties: Mmk, Robitaille, interference, :18; Maine, Flynn, interference, 9:19; Maine, Marshall, tripping, 18:01.
Third period – 2. Maine, Orsini 1 (O’Neill, Dee), 14:14. Penalties: Mmk, Farrell, interference, 1:23; Maine, Duffy, holding, 5:55.
Overtime – No scoring. Penalties: Maine, O’Neill, roughing, 5:00; Maine, House, roughing, 5:00; Mmk, Ross, roughing, 5:00; Mmk, Loprieno, roughing, 5:00.
Shots on goal: Merrimack 6-9-8-1-24; Maine 4-4-7-2-17
Goaltenders: Merrimack, Cannata (17 shots-16 saves); Maine, Darling (24-23)
Power-play opportunities: Merrimack 0 of 4, Maine 0 of 4
High-percentage scoring chances: Merrimack 0-4-4-1-9; Maine 6-3-3-0-12