Auburn, ME. – The Central Maine Community College men's ice hockey team continued its strong play on home ice Wednesday as they hosted the rival Thomas College Terriers. Spirited play in all three zones, timely goalkeeping from Anthony Tilleli, and a pair of rapid-fire goals from newcomer Beau Armstrong saw the Mustangs blow a close contest open in the third period as the hosts stampeded to a 5-2 victory.
The game was scoreless after one period of play with each team trading opportunities but failing to find the back of the net. Tilleli and opposing goaltender Tom Green, a Biddeford native, exchanged excellent saves to keep the game at 0-0.
In fact, the packed house at Norway Savings Bank Arena had to wait quite a while before either side gave them a reason to cheer. It wasn't until the 16:11 mark in the 2nd period when defenseman Shawn Sullivan carried the puck nearly end-to-end before slipping a perfectly placed sharp angle shot just under the cross bar to beat Green and give the Mustangs a 1-0 lead. The lead would hold after two, with the Mustangs killing a Willy Baxter interference penalty in the final two minutes of the period to cling to their slight advantage.
"I thought the first two periods was as good as we played all year," said Mustangs coach Matt Buotte afterward. "We executed in all three zones but particularly in the defensive zone. We did a great job limiting chances and letting Tony [Tilleli] see pucks."
From there newcomer Beau Armstrong, a Tampa Bay, Florida native playing just his fourth game with the Mustangs took over. Just 13 seconds into the third, Armstrong collected an errant breakout pass in the high slot and rifled it past Green to double the Mustangs advantage. Not resting on his laurels, Armstrong finished the game-changing shift just 18 seconds later by collecting a Carl Bear breakout pass and streaking through the neutral zone and rifling a wrist shot past green from the top of the right circle. It was Armstrong's fourth goal in his first four games, all of which were scored at home.
With the Mustangs holding a 3-0 lead they would put themselves in a bit of adversity, with Jordy Knoren taking a tripping penalty just a minute after Armstrong's goal. With Knoren in the box, the Terriers appeared to strike for the first time but the goal was called back after the officiating crew determined the Mustangs, who had a delayed penalty impending, touched the puck to blow the play dead before the goal was scored.
With Alec Howes in the box for tripping the Mustangs would courageously kill 37 seconds of 5-on-3 power play to keep the Terriers off the board. Then, riding the wave of momentum from the penalty kills, the Mustangs would deliver the knockout blow with 12:27 remaining. With Knoren streaking down the right wing, he pulled up and delivered a perfectly placed pass to assistant captain Collin Sheehan, who unleashed an immaculate one-timer over the glove of Green to give Central Maine a 4-0 advantage.
"It started with a great break out that we needed to get out of the zone," said Sheehan of the goal. "I just chipped it past the defenseman and Jordy came through the neutral zone flying. He gave me a perfect pass for the one-timer."
Thomas would finally get their breakthrough with 8:58 remaining in the game, with Justin Wentworth capitalizing on a Mustangs turnover and slipping a wrist shot past Tilleli to trim the deficit to 4-1.
The goal was an unassisted, shorthanded effort. The Terriers would strike again with 5:06 to go, with Ethan Scripture taking a Rajhan Mannings pass and rifling a shot home from the left point, squeaking it by Tilelli to put the pressure on the Mustangs and give the visiting side life.
"It was disappointing to give up the two goals we did," said Buotte. "We dug in after that, though. We got back on the horse and kept going and it was nice to see. Those moments of difficulty are going to come and I thought we navigated them well last night."
With the Terriers pushing to tie the score, the Mustangs steadied the ship for the final minutes, limiting chances and keeping the puck out dangerous areas as the visitors pulled Green for an extra attacker. Then, with 23 seconds to play, Ireland native Sean Coleman made a tremendous play at the defensive blue line, clearing a puck before outskating a Thomas defender and sliding the puck into the yawning cage to put a bow on a hard-earned, 5-2 victory.
"It was a very good team win coming off a tough performance at Suffolk," said Sheehan, whose third period marker was his first in five games. "The whole team was looking to win in front of our home crowd against an instate rival. This was a huge win to have with all of the injuries and adversity we've faced over the past few weeks."
The Mustangs, mostly healed after a tolling stretch of 5 games in 8 days that saw a parade to the trainer's table, were able to roll three full lines in the victory against Thomas. Despite going 0-for-7 on the power play they outshot the Terriers 39-21. Anthony Tilleli made 19 saves in a strong performance just four days after being pulled after just 12 minutes against Suffolk.
"It felt great to go out there and play a strong game," said Tilleli of his performance. "The boys really helped me out by playing solid in the defensive zone all game and it felt really great, after getting yanked last Saturday, to get the win. Last night's win meant a lot."
The Mustangs improved to 5-5-0 with the result, while Thomas dropped their first game of the year to fall to 3-1-0. The teams next meet again on January 23rd when Central Maine will travel north for the road contest. The Mustangs are next in action on Saturday, November 10th when they travel to Gordon to take on the Fighting Scots—a club whom they defeated 8-0 back on October 27th. The puck drops at Raymond J. Bourque Arena in Beverly, Massachusetts at 7:00 p.m.