Rob McGovern woke up Saturday morning as an untested walk-on freshman goaltender for the Maine hockey team.

By the end of the day he was the MVP of the Ice Breaker tournament after making 44 saves in his debut to help Maine forge an improbable 1-1 tie against No. 4 North Dakota, to the delight of the announced crowd of 5,187 at the Cross Insurance Arena.

How did it feel?

“It was something else. But it was a lot of fun,” McGovern said, searching for words to describe his one-day odyssey.

Coach Red Gendron told McGovern he was getting the call Saturday morning. Asked what led him to that decision, Gendron replied: “I can’t tell you that. Because I don’t really know.”

The coach was as defensive as his team was forced to be throughout a crisply played game that North Dakota (1-0-1) controlled, outshooting Maine 45-20.

After the overtime, the teams played a shootout as required by Ice Breaker rules, but there really was no point to it. Nolan Vesey scored in the shootout to give Maine a “win,” but North Dakota took home the championship trophy on a tiebreaker over Michigan State. Both teams had a regulation win and a tie, but North Dakota allowed fewer goals.

Maine (0-0-2), which tied both nights, finished third in the tournament point standings.

But that was immaterial to the Black Bears, who stood up to a barrage of North Dakota shots while having trouble generating chances of their own.

Unlike Friday, when their 11 penalties against Michigan State ultimately cost them a win, the Black Bears were whistled for only three infractions. North Dakota took advantage of one of them, forcing McGovern into his lone mistake. The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder from Weymouth, Massachusetts, blocked a shot by Paul LaDue but left the rebound at his feet, where Chris Wilkie poked it over his pads at 1:32 of the second.

Maine answered on the power play. North Dakota defenseman Troy Stecher failed to clear his zone and Maine forward Blaine Byron brought the puck into the slot. Instead of taking an open shot, he dumped it to Cam Brown at the right side of the crease, and his one-timer blew past North Dakota goaltender Cam Johnson at 8:24 of the second period.

That ended the scoring, but not the drama. On the ensuing faceoff, Brock Boeser broke in on McGovern, who knocked his shot aside. He had every answer from there on.

“I knew we had guys coming back through the middle so I knew he had nothing to cut back,” McGovern said. “So I came out, cut down the angle and he just shot it. I’m pretty big, so I took up most of the net. So it worked out pretty well.”

McGovern was the last Black Bear to take the ice for warmups, a contrast to the tradition of the starting goaltender leading the team out. It’s part of his pregame ritual, he said, to hang back in the locker room a little longer.

It was a ritual he never dreamed he’d be performing just two games into his college career.

“When Red told me I was playing, I was pretty nervous,” McGovern said. “But as the day went on I got more comfortable and more confident. All my teammates were patting me on the back, telling me I was going to do great.”


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