BOSTON -- North of Massachusetts, it is one of the most storied and bitterly contested rivalries in New England sports, a grudge match that transcends records and borders. Think Red Sox-Yankees nasty. Prior to Saturday, the Wildcats of New Hampshire and Black Bears of Maine had met 110 times, with Maine holding a 56-49-5 edge in the series.
So a Black Bears-Wildcats rendezvous was a natural fit for the second rendition of Hockey East's Frozen Fenway, even though the two squads were sitting in 5th (Maine) and 8th (New Hampshire) in the league standings at the beginning of the day.
True to the nature of this border feud, the second game of the twilight doubleheader before a sellout crowd at Boston's Fenway Park didn't disappoint, with the two traditional hockey powers going toe-to-toe before Maine (10-7-2; 7-6-1 HE) secured bragging rights with a rollicking 5-4 overtime win over the Wildcats (6-11-2; 4-8-1 Hockey East).
Maine's senior captain Brian Flynn got the game winner, redirecting a Joey Diamond shot at the doorstep at 1:29 of the extra session. The goal capped a two-game Frozen Fenway showcase on Saturday that featured a pair of overtime thrillers (UMass-Amherst had slipped past Vermont in the earlier game, 3-2).
However, the Black Bears had to earn the two points. The Wildcats wasted little time in stating their case for interstate supremacy, after Maine goaltender Dan Sullivan kicked the rebound of a Nick Sorkin shot straight up the slot. UNH junior John Henrion accepted Sullivan's gift, and blistered the puck underneath the Maine goalie's blocker for a 1-0 New Hampshire lead at 1:05.
Maine answered with a power-play strike at 4:10. With UNH's Jay Camper serving two minutes for tripping, Maine's Kyle Beattie slashed down the left wing before sending a backhand pass to the top of the crease. Maine's Mark Anthoine was waiting, and shoveled the puck past UNH freshman goaltender Casey De Smith to tie the score at 1-1.
The play settled down for the first 10 minutes of the second period, even if the puck wouldn't. The unpredictable ice surface made puckhandling and passing an adventure. The same rule held true for the goaltenders.
DeSmith, making only his second collegiate start, was forced to make a terrific save on Maine's O'Neil, who floated a knuckleball into the UNH zone. The puck bounced crazily on DeSmith, but the UNH keeper managed to get his right arm on the shot just as it looked like it was headed to the top corner. But then the goals started coming in bunches.
At 11:01 Maine got a prolonged two-man advantage when Henrion joined Damon Kipp in the penalty box. But it was the Wildcats who capitalized initially, when Kevin Goumas stole the puck from Maine's Spencer Abbott, broke in alone on Sullivan, and coolly fired the puck blocker side at 11:27 for a 2-1 UNH lead.
Six seconds later, Maine was right back in the game. Still on the two-man advantage, Maine's Diamond redirected a point blast from Abbott that snuck past DeSmith's right pad at 11:44.
Maine then went up 3-2 at 12:34, when Anthoine's wrist shot seemed to hit DeSmith square in the chest, but then puck the dropped between the goaltender's legs and trickled into the UNH net at 12:34.
Maine opened the final stanza with a potentially backbreaking tally. Abbott, stationed in the high slot, faked a slap shot before feathering a sublime no-look behind-the-back pass to Diamond. The junior from Long Beach, N.Y., slid across the crease and tucked the puck underneath DeSmith for a 4-2 Maine lead at the 30-second mark.
The Wildcats kept clawing back, however, with Goumas registering his second goal of the game at 3:00. Another product of Long Beach, N.Y., the UNH sophomore took a deft drop pass from Stevie Moses, took one stride, and roofed a wrist shot over Sullivan's glove hand.
Wildcat Grayson Downing knotted the game at 4-4 with his fifth goal of the season at 4:43. UNH's Jeff Silengo fired a shot from the left dot that Sullivan (20 saves) blocked, but the rebound fell to Downing. The UNH freshmen swiped at the puck, and his backhander rolled into the net just past Sullivan's outstretched catch glove.
Maine's Flynn, from nearby Lynnfield, Mass., had a bid to end the game with 26 seconds left in regulation, but DeSmith (28 saves) gathered his backhand attempt against his chest and didn't give up a rebound.
In overtime, Flynn made good on his second chance. At 1:29 of the extra session, Flynn set up shop right in front of DeSmith, and his deflected shot seemed to loop over the UNH goaltender in slow motion before settling into the back of the net.
The goal was Flynn's 11th goal of the year, and 62nd of his career. It's a good bet that none of the previous 61 goals were any bigger, or felt any better. Advantage, Maine.