Auburn, ME. - The Central Maine Community College men's ice hockey team only lead for one minute and thirty-eight seconds against Wentworth Institute of Technology on Saturday night. Fortunately for the home team it was the final 1:38 of the contest, as the Mustangs used a stunning rally late to knock off the Wentworth by a final count of 4-3 at Norway Savings Bank Arena.
Central Maine put themselves in an early hole, starting sleepily and inviting heavy pressure from the Leopards. Central Maine goalkeeper Anthony Tilelli, coming off a victory over Thomas College 10 days prior, made several sprawling saves throughout the first period to keep the Leopards at bay as they held a heavy 21-9 shot advantage through the first period.
Wentworth's heavy pressure would finally pay off 12:23 into the contest when Joe Christikas found himself all alone in front of Tilelli after a lapse in defensive coverage. He would bang home a Joe Ripa shot from the right point to draw first blood for the Leopards.
"I thought our start was really sloppy," said Mustangs head coach Matt Buotte. "We had some really poor defensive lapses early that put us in a hole. We were really sleepwalking at the start."
The slumber would continue through the remainder of the period as the Mustangs would find themselves in a two goal hole with 3:11 remaining in the first. Ryan Freker was able to beat defenseman Parker Springer to the net on a 2-on-2 rush and slide a Steve Defuria feed past Tilelli to double the Leopards lead. From there, it Tilelli took over, stopping several more chances in the periods final minutes to keep the deficit at two.
"If it wasn't for Tony we might have come out of the first down five," said Buotte. "Seriously. He competed so hard tonight. He never quit on one puck and it was number on reason we were able to even be in this contest. [CM Athletic Director Gonyea] Dave told me after the game it was the best goaltending performance he's seen in the three years of the program and I absolutely believe it."
The Mustangs would finally break through 3:25 into the middle period, when Jordy Knoren took a brilliant Patrick Pearson pass and snuck in behind the Wentworth defense, calmly slotting the breakaway opportunity past Leopards goalkeeper Patrick Byrne to trim the lead to 2-1. The goal was Knoren's 5th of the year, with Shawn Sullivan adding a secondary assist on the play.
As they have been wont to do, the Mustangs rode the momentum to another quick goal just :31 later. Sean Coleman slid the puck up the half wall to Sullivan, who faked a slap shot before sliding the puck to Drake Goupil on the back post. Goupil didn't hesitate, rifling the one-timer past Byrne to tie the score with 16:04 left to play in the second.
The game would remain deadlocked at two for most of the middle period, with the Leopards holding a slight 8-7 shot advantage. Of the eight shots they had, several were golden opportunities thwarted by Tilelli.
"Tony played probably his best game I've seen him play," said Mustangs defenseman Parker Springer. "He was incredible and we needed that in a game like this."
Tilelli would be solved for the final time with 2:22 remaining in the second, when winger Matt Sardone found himself alone in front, jamming a feed from Freker past an outstretch Tilelli to put Wentworth back on top, a lead they would hold heading into the third period.
The third period saw the teams at a bit of stalemate, with both teams trying to limit quality opportunities. The Mustangs would kill a Jacoby Robinson cross-checking penalty in the first half of the period and the Leopards would kill a holding penalty in the second half, but the teams remained at 3-2 as time wound down.
Then, with the Mustangs ramping up the pressure, they would finally get the tying goal they had been after. After a good cycling play by Coleman on on the wall, Litchfield, New Hampshire native Trevor Roche slid a pass to an open Goupil, who immediately fired the puck past Byrne to level the score at 3. It was Goupil's second of the evening and 6th of the season.
"Late in the third we were desperate for a goal," said Goupil, a second year forward and assistant captain. "I knew it was going to have to be a greaser to get things tied. We had a good cycle and I was able to pop out in front and get positioned. I didn't even see it go in, but [Sean] Coleman's reaction made me know it went in. It gave us a lot of momentum."
From there the stage was set for some late-game heroics. As he has made of a habit of early in this Mustangs career, forward Beau Armstrong—silenced most of the evening—made his appearance on the scoresheet in grand fashion. After a turnover at the offensive blue line, Jordy Knoren flew down the left wing before sliding a cross-ice pass to Armstrong, who touched it past Byrne to put the Mustangs up 4-3 with his fifth of the season.
"I saw Jordy coming in and I drove hard knowing he'd get it to me," said Armstrong of the goal, which would hold as the game-winner. "Sure thing, he slide it through two players right on my tape. I could've closed my eyes and still scored, he made that good of a pass."
Tilelli would be called upon once more in the final 1:38, making the final save in the waning moments as the Leopards pulled the goaltender and pushed for an equalizer. His final moment of brilliance came with 7.6 seconds left, when the Leopards outmanned the Mustangs in the crease but were not able to solve a sprawling Tilelli.
"Tony was a freak of nature tonight," cotinued Armstrong, who had scored four of his five goals in the third period this season. "If he didn't play the way he did it would've been a different outcome."
Tilelli stopped 34 of 37 shots in the victory while his adversary, Byrne, turned aside 20 of 24 in defeat.
"I felt great in net," said Tilelli, who improved his personal record to 5-2-0 on the year. "I made a few saves I'll probably never make again. Despite being down two we stuck with it and finished the comeback.
The Mustangs improved to 7-5-0 on the year, including a 4-2-0 mark at home. Central Maine went 0-for-3 on the power play, while Wentworth finished at 0-for-2. The final shot count was a lopsided 37-24 advantage for Wentworth. Central Maine will travel to the University of New England on Sunday before heading into the Thanksgiving break.
"This win felt great," said Tilelli. "The way the crowd was buzzing, the boys and I really fed off it. It was like nothing I've ever experienced."