April 5, 2007 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Maine's Improbable Run Comes to Halt

by Matt Williams/CHN Reporter

ST. LOUIS — It's hard to say exactly when the clock struck midnight on Maine's improbable late-season resurgence. The Black Bears stormed out of the gates with a 2-0 lead in the first four minutes of Thursday's national semifinal, only to see a patient, resourceful Michigan State sqaud net four unanswered goals to send them home one game shy of the national championship for a second straight season.

Things seemed to start unraveling in the second period, as Maine no longer looked like the squad that had brushed aside the likes of St. Cloud State and was poised to run Michigan State out of the Scottrade Center. It seemed to have morphed back into the team that had nearly missed the postseason by losing four straight to Massachusetts to close out the month of March.

Maine dodged several Spartan bullets throughout the second before Chris Snavely buried a one-timer from Justin Abdelkader, tying the score and parking momentum firmly on the Michigan State side.

"I've been in a lot of these games, and you know that momentum swings and swings back," said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. "We wanted to get it back to start the third period and it didn't happen."

Despite watching a 2-0 lead slip away, the Black Bears entered the final frame with a determined mindset bent on getting the game back in their favor.

"We still felt pretty good," said Keith Johnson, who opened the scoring 23 seconds into the game. "It was 2-2 and we had a period to go to get to the national championship."

Maine — owners of the best power-play unit in the country at an impressive 25 percent — drew the man advantage 2:34 into the final period. Its best shot at reclaiming the game came when Teddy Purcell's shot deflected off the crossbar; the Spartans killed the rest of the penalty and followed it up with the game-winner just 37 seconds after the penalty expired.

"It's a game of inches," Johnson said. "Teddy hit the crossbar, and if that goes in it could be a different story. They capitalized a couple of minutes after that."

It wasn't quite midnight yet, as Maine turned up the pressure with its sights set on the game-tying goal. The Spartans had other plans, with Jim McKenzie knocking in a home run of sorts, batting a rebound out of mid-air to make it 4-2 and complete the Black Bears pumpkin transformation.

"It's tough when you get two goals out of the air like that," Bishop said. "For a second, I thought I was playing their baseball team."

Perhaps the Spartans were fortunate the get their sticks on the bouncing pucks, and see them careen into the back of the net. But the bottom line is that the Black Bears seemed to disappear in the third, managing only three shots on net in frame's first 10 minutes.

"We didn't play our best game tonight," said Maine's Mike Hamilton. "We didn't get a lot of bounces, but you have to make your own breaks."

"They deserved the bounces they got," added Josh Soares, who made it 2-0 at 3:24 of the first and had a nifty assist on the first goal, swiping the puck to an open Johnson as he fell behind the net.

Though the collapse wasn't complete until McKenzie's tally, the countdown to disaster began at 7:25 of the first, with Chris Mueller swatting the puck out of mid-air between Bishop's legs to give the Spartans life.

"I think the biggest goal of the game was that kid batting it out of the air to make it 2-1," said Johnson.

Still, the Black Bears had the lead after one — a situation in which they were 12-3-1 this year. But Michigan State was simply wouldn't be denied.

"This one's going to sting," Johnson said. "But after a while, we'll look back and realize how special it is to get to the Frozen Four."

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