PORTLAND — The University of Maine men’s hockey team needed a wake-up call in its exhibition game against the United States National Team Development Program’s Under-18 squad.
It came in the way of a game-opening goal by Team USA’s Reid Boucher, whose power-play goal supplied the youngsters with a well-deserved lead.
The Black Bears responded with a goal by Mike Cornell just one minute later and Brian Flynn scored what proved to be the game-winner with 11 seconds left in the period as Maine went on to post a 5-1 victory before a crowd of approximately 2,500.
Maine is now 18-6-3 at the Cumberland County Civic Center and extended its unbeaten streak in Portland to 13 games (10-0-3). Maine has won all seven exhibition games against the U.S. Under-18 team.
Spencer Abbott gave Maine some valuable breathing room with a power-play goal just 50 seconds into the third period before Josh Van Dyk’s even-strength goal and Jon Swavely’s power-play goal capped the scoring.
The game deteriorated in the final minutes with a hit by USA right wing Tyler Biggs on Maine defenseman Nick Pryor igniting bad blood between the two teams. Pryor had to be helped off the ice with a concussion.
Three USA players — Biggs (boarding), Rocco Grimaldi (contact to the head) and Blake Pietila (grabbing the facemask) — received five-minute majors, as did Maine’s Kelen Corkum (grabbing the facemask). All were sent to their locker rooms.
“We wanted to get some experience for our younger players and we did,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “And we wanted to get our power play untracked.”
Maine went 3-for-10 on the power play and has now scored a power-play goal in four straight games after a dismal stretch that included an 0-for-33 showing. The statistics from this game don’t count, however.
“We got better as the game went along,” said Flynn. “But this was the third straight game in which we started slowly.”
Flynn said they have to stop that trend beginning with Saturday night’s Hockey East game at Merrimack.
He was also pleased with the way the team “stood up for each other” when the game got nasty.
“We took them lightly and we can’t afford to take any team lightly,” said Abbott. “They were a good team.”
Abbott said the game-opening goal got their attention because Team USA hadn’t beaten a Division I team and they didn’t want to suffer the embarrassment of being the only one to lose to them. Team USA was 2-7 against college teams with the wins coming over Division III teams Bowdoin and the University of Southern Maine.
Freshman goalie Martin Ouellette prevented the Bears from falling behind by two or three goals with his play in the early going.
“We didn’t come out ready to play but Marty did a great job,” said junior right wing Gustav Nyquist, who had three assists.
Boucher gave Team USA its lead by tipping Robbie Russo’s point shot over Ouellette’s glove.
But the Black Bears began taking the body and playing with more conviction and Cornell quickly responded with a one-timer from the bottom of the left circle off a diagonal feed from Nyquist.
“Our goal seemed to rally them,” said USA goaltender Matt McNeely, who originally gave Maine a verbal commitment but de-committed so he could stay closer to his Burnsville, Minn., home and attend Minnesota-Duluth.
Flynn was set up by Adam Shemansky, who began carrying the puck behind the net but quickly slipped it out the short side.
Flynn scored from a difficult angle to McNeely’s right with Joey Diamond serving as another possible pass recipient option in the mid slot.
“Shemansky made a great pass. We work on that play a lot,” said Flynn.
“I followed (Shemansky) but I should have stayed on the near post longer,” said McNeely.
Maine carried the play in the second period but McNeely came up with seven Grade-A (high-percentage) saves among the 14 he was required to make in the period.
Abbott finally gave Maine breathing room in the first minute of the third period when, just five seconds after a two-man advantage had evaporated into a one-man advantage, he one-timed a diagonal pass from Nyquist past McNeely into the short side.
“(McNeely) didn’t get over in time,” said Abbott.
Nyquist absorbed a hit in the corner from Russo late in the game. Nyquist retaliated, got a two-minute penalty and left the game but said after the game that he was fine.
Van Dyk scored with a rising wrist shot from the middle of the slot off a Nyquist feed and Swavely swatted home a Brice O’Connor rebound.
“The three power-play goals should give us some confidence,” said Abbott.
Ouellette finished with 22 saves, including 14 Grade-A’s, while McNeely made 34 of which 18 were Grade-A’s.
“Maine was good. They’re fast and they moved the puck really well,” said McNeely. “Some of our guys lost their heads. We took too many penalties.”