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IceBreaker Tournament: Memorable NCAA Debut for Maine's McGovern

Matt Dewkett

Portland, Maine -- It was a night he'll never forget.

University of Maine freshman goaltender Rob McGovern didn't learn he would get his first collegiate start in his team's game against No. 4 North Dakota until Saturday morning.

"When [Maine head coach] Red [Gendron] told me I was playing, I was pretty nervous, but as the day went on, I got more comfortable and confident. Once the game got started, I felt pretty comfortable," said the Weymouth, Mass. native. "It was a lot of fun."

But, on short notice and against one of the most intimidating and talented teams in the country, McGovern showed no signs of nerves as he stopped 44 shots to help the Black Bears force a 1-1 draw against North Dakota in the final game of the 2015 IceBreaker Tournament.

"They dumped it in on the first shift. Once I touched the puck, I knew this was it," said McGovern, who credited his defense with clearing out second chances and keeping pucks out of the danger zone.

McGovern went on to stop all three North Dakota shooters in the shootout that gave Maine the 2-1 win for tournament purposes although the game will go in the NCAA record books as a tie. Nolan Vesey's strong move and backhand finish provided all the offensive spark Maine would need in the three-round shootout.

"Maine played a very hard game. They played well. We played well. That was two very good teams playing each other early in the season," said North Dakota coach Brad Berry.

McGovern, who played prep hockey at Thayer Academy, did a good job of using his big frame to take up a lot of space in the net and make a lot of the saves look easy as he stayed down in his customary butterfly style.

"I've always liked games where I face more shots. It keeps you on your toes," said McGovern of all the rubber he faced. "I'm pretty big so I take up a lot of the net."

Despite losing in the shootout, North Dakota still captured the IceBreaker Tournament trophy thanks to winning the second tiebreaker over Michigan State. Both UND and the Spartans went 1-0-1 with a shootout loss, but UND allowed fewer goals over the two games.

Maine finished third in the tournament it hosted even though the Black Bears didn't lose a game on the weekend.

After a scoreless first period, North Dakota drew first blood just six seconds into a power play early in the second period. Luke Johnson won the face-off to Drake Caggiula who pushed it back to Paul LaDue at the right point. His seemingly harmless wrist shot hit Maine goaltender Rob McGovern in the chest, but the rebound popped right out to Chris Wilkie who lifted it home at the 1:32 mark.

Maine answered later in the period on a power play attempt of its own, capitalizing on an errant breakout attempt by UND defenseman Troy Stecher. Blaine Byron picked up the loose puck, quickly spun around and zipped a pass to Cam Brown on the doorstep. Brown quickly whistled it into the net from the right side of the crease to tie the score, 1-1, with 11:36 to play in the second.

Thanks to the heroics of McGovern and stellar goaltending by North Dakota sophomore Cam Johnson, there would be no more scoring until the shootout.

"Early in the game he wasn't called upon tonight, but later on he made some great saves off of Maine's opportunities," said Berry.

McGovern was named the IceBreaker Tournament Most Valuable Player and earned a spot as the goaltender on the All-Tournament Team. North Dakota's Troy Stecher and Paul LaDue were the defensemen on the team. Maine's Blaine Byron and North Dakota's Drake Caggiula and Nick Schmaltz were the forwards.

North Dakota heads back west for a home-and-home series with former WCHA foe Bemidji State next weekend before coming back east in two weeks to face the University of Vermont. Maine travels to Schenectady, NY to face Union College for a pair next weekend.

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Jeff Cox covers college, junior, high school and prep hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxSports.