NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — For the third consecutive game, the University of Maine men’s hockey team was involved in a 3-2 contest.
This time the Black Bears emerged victorious.
Power-play goals by Gustav Nyquist and Tanner House staked them to a 2-0 lead 2:59 into Sunday afternoon’s game and junior right wing Brett Carriere scored a pivotal goal with 6:21 remaining as Maine topped Merrimack College to snap its three-game winless streak (0-2-1).
Maine is now 8-5-1 overall, 5-4-1 in Hockey East, while Merrimack fell to 4-8-3 and 2-7-2, respectively. Maine went 2-0-1 against Merrimack in concluding the series.
“This was definitely a win we needed,” said Carriere, whose game-winner was his second of the season and of his career with both coming at the expense of the Warriors. He got the winner in the 2-1 victory on Nov. 21 in Orono.
Maine had lost its previous two games by the same score to Vermont and Northeastern (overtime).
Rob Ricci’s second-period power-play goal had cut the lead to 2-1 and the Warriors were carrying play in the third period as they pressed for the equalizer.
But Maine’s Robby Dee took a pass from Mike Banwell and carried the puck into the offensive zone before stopping and waiting for a play to develop.
“It was a two-on-two and I just tried to get the puck through to Carriere,” said Dee.
“[Dee] did a great job buying me time to get into position,” said Carriere. “The puck came through and popped in the air and I slapped it [on the backhand].”
“It was a quick shot and beat me five-hole,” said Merrimack freshman goalie Joe Cannata.
“That goal deflated us,” said Merrimack senior center and captain Ricci.
“That was a huge goal,” agreed Maine freshman defenseman Will O’Neill, who set up the power-play goals with wrist shots from the point. “[Carriere] may not be our leading scorer, but he scores timely goals.”
Merrimack made things interesting when Adam Ross’ screened slap shot on a power play sliced the lead to 3-2 with 1:20 left. The Warriors had a four-on-three advantage and Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy pulled Cannata in favor of the extra attacker.
But the Warriors couldn’t tie it up.
O’Neill said Maine coach Tim Whitehead has been stressing the need to “get our shots through to the net” on the power play and that’s what he did as he took passes at the right point and quick-stepped into a better shooting position at the midpoint.
Cannata made saves on both, but Nyquist and House scored on ensuing followup shots.
House took a whack at the rebound on the first one and it squirted to Nyquist at a tight angle to Cannata’s left and he roofed it before Cannata could slide across.
On the next one, a Hahn rebound hit the post and rolled into the crease where House slotted it into the empty net.
Ricci scored with a wrister from the right circle at the 11:59 mark of the middle period and, later in the period, Maine goalie Scott Darling preserved the lead by thwarting Jeff Velleca’s breakaway backhander.
“I stuck out my left toe,” said Darling, who finished with 27 saves including 13 on Grade-A (high-percentage) shots.
“It’s definitely nice to get a win after two losses and a tie,” said Darling. “I was dialed in. I felt solid tonight. I didn’t see the two goals. It was nice to get that third goal.”
“It was a good, hard-fought win,” said Whitehead. “Merrimack did a nice job coming back, but I was pleased with the way the guys kept their heads about them and they defended well at the end.”
“The first two power-play goals set a tone for the team. It let [Merrimack] know we came to play,” added Whitehead, who was pleased that O’Neill was able to get his shots to the net against a team that does “such a good job blocking shots.”
Dennehy said his team responded well to the two-goal deficit, but it’s difficult coming back from that.
“We hit two pipes and the rink was tilted [in our favor] five-on-five. Then they scored on a dump-in,” said Dennehy, who felt his team did a poor job covering the netfront on the first two goals.
Hahn, like O’Neill, had two assists for Maine. Hahn broke a five-game scoring drought.
Cannata finished with 20 saves, including 10 on Grade-A shots.
Carriere’s goal was Maine’s only Grade-A shot on goal in the third period.
Merrimack outshot Maine 10-3 in the third and 29-23 overall.