ESTERO, Fla. – The game-ending buzzer sounded, and every University of Maine hockey player bolted for freshman goaltender Matt Morris in celebration.
For the second consecutive year, the Black Bears won the Florida College Classic. This time Maine knocked off 11th-ranked Cornell 6-4 on a night in which the Black Bears answered a 3-0 deficit with five consecutive goals.
“It was absolutely huge for us, just the way we won,” said Devin Shore, whose second-period goal gave Maine its first lead at 4-3. He was named to the all-tournament team, along with Morris.
After winning just two of its first 15 games, the Black Bears won twice in the last two nights. Saturday, they scored a season-high six goals.
Kyle Beattie scored a goal and had two assists, and was named the tournament MVP.
Ryan Lomberg clinched the win with an empty-netter in the final minute. Morris replaced starting goaltender Martin Ouellette, and gave up just one goal in more than 50 minutes.
For Ouellette, the game was an absolute reverse of Friday’s 1-0 win over Minnesota-Duluth, when he stopped 31 shots to help the Black Bears halt a four-game winless streak. Cornell went ahead 1-0 just 1:09 into the game when John Esposito skated between two Maine defenders, broke in alone on Ouellette and slipped the puck past him.
After the Big Red scored two more goals in the next nine minutes for a 3-0 lead, Ouellette found himself on the bench, pulled by Coach Tim Whitehead and replaced by Morris. Ouellette stopped just three of the six shots he faced.
Mike Cornell finally got a goal for the Black Bears, blasting a shot past Cornell goalie Andy Iles from the right point with 7:57 left in the period, pulling Maine to within 3-1. And at that point, play turned ugly with nearly every stoppage for the rest of the opening period marked by players jabbing and pushing each other, including in the bench area. Maine’s Ben Hutton and Cornell’s Joel Lowry each drew 10-minute misconducts just before a faceoff.
The Black Bears turned on their offense in the second period, scoring three consecutive goals. Kyle Beattie collected a centering pass on a two-on-one attack, tipping it past Iles to make it 3-2. Then Mark Anthoine tied it at 3-3 on a power-play goal, deflecting in a shot from the right point.
BLACK BEAR NOTES: Senior forward Joey Diamond, one of the team’s three captains, did not play Saturday or Friday due to problems with his neck and back. His three goals this season are tied for the team lead. “Early in the year, that probably would have set us back,” Whitehead said of Diamond’s injury. “Obviously we would have loved to had him out there, him and (Adam) Shemansky and (Nick) Pryor, the three seniors. It was not a factor. Everyone was ready to get after it. We’ve been through so much, we’re ready to fight through whatever happens.”
Maine and Cornell are the only schools to play in the Florida College Classic every year since the tournament began in 2000. They have now met four times in the championship game, including the inaugural tournament. Maine has defeated Cornell three times in the title game. Ferris State, ranked No. 19 nationally, won the consolation game, defeating Minnesota-Duluth, 6-2.