Auburn, ME. - With campuses just a stone's throw apart the Bates Bobcats and Central Maine Community College Mustangs are set up geographically to be a fierce rivalry. If the teams continue to to produce thrilling contests like the one at Norway Savings Bank Arena on Wednesday night the match-up could be the talk of the town for years to come. Goals from Carl Bear and Shawn Sullivan, timely penalty killing, and a massive 26 save performance from Jacob Strout would prove to be enough to put the Mustangs over the top in a heart-stopping 2-1 victory.
The Bobcats would come out flying early in the contest and would eventually break the ice to open the scoring midway through the first. After a defensive breakdown the Bobcats would pounce on a quick 2-on-1 low in the Mustangs zone, with Morgan Dewdney walking out of the corner and finding Jarod Castro on the back post for a tap-in past Strout to push Bates ahead with 7:50 to play in the first period. The score would hold through the remainder of the first despite Central Maine holding a slim 10-9 shot advantage.
The Mustangs would find their footing in the second, creating a plethora of opportunities that were repeatedly turned aside by Bates goaltender Aidan Hill. Alec Howes was denied on a follow-up chance in tight, then moments later Patrick Pearson was denied on a 2-on-1 after a beautiful feed from Zac Brown.
"I really liked our second period," said Mustangs head coach Matt Buotte. "It was the kind of period we've been looking for for a long time. It wasn't super crisp but we really dug in. We worked hard, won battles, and everyone contributed. As a coach I couldn't have been more pleased even if the chances weren't going in."
They would, however, find the twine once before the middle period concluded. After a relentless forechecking shift late in the second, Mustang captain Sullivan would drive the puck into the slot. A broken play would result in a fortunate bounce to Bear, the team's leading goal scorer, who would whip a backhand shot over Hill to level the score with 4:17 remaining. Sullivan and Isaiah Dubois would notch assists on the play.
The teams would head to the third period on level terms with the Mustangs holding a 20-16 shot advantage, setting the stage for a heart-stopping conclusion. After the Mustangs killed a Collin Sheehan tripping minor early in the third, Bates would be whistled for a too many men on the ice minor with 13:15 to go. The Mustangs power play would then go to work. After a ferocious forecheck from Brandon Pelton, the Mustangs worked a cycle down low before Sheehan found defenseman Parker Springer at the blue line. Springer held the puck patiently before sliding the puck across to Sullivan, who unleashed a one-timer that slipped through Hill and gave the Mustangs a 2-1 lead with 12:36 to go.
"Once I got the puck I wanted to generate the best chance," said Springer of the picture perfect pass to Sullivan. "I thought that would be going D-to-D. It was a great shot from [Sullivan]."
The Bobcats would continue to press for the remainder of the period, holding an 11-5 shot advantage in the third as they pushed for an equalizer. From there Strout picked up where he left off in his last game, a 5-3 victory over UNE just five days prior. Strout made several key stops down the stretch, robbing Bates freshman Sean Agrodnia with a glove save moments before denying senior Ned Moreland on a point-blank chance in the slot.
"Once again, it was [Strout's] night," said Buotte of his goaltender. "He made a few saves down the stretch that, if we don't get, we don't win. It was awesome to see him having success out there. He deserves it."
The Bobcats would pull the goaltender looking for an equalizer but the Mustangs would put the clamps down. After Central Maine called a timeout with 1:33 remaining they would continue to pressure Bates, keeping them trapped in the defensive zone to salt away a thrilling 2-1 victory.
"We won the 50/50 battles tonight," said Springer of the Mustangs committed effort. "It's fun when you have guys doing the right things out there."
The Mustangs currently do not have another game on the schedule, though they intend to add a few more to finish out the second semester schedule. Bates and Central Maine are working in tandem to find a date for a rematch. For players like Sheehan, who are moving on at season's end, the victory was even sweeter.
"With Bates being so close, it's a big rivalry game," he said. "After three hard fought periods it was a nice feeling to come out on top. Everyone on the bench left it out there every shift. Nothing feels better than a team win."