ORONO — The University of Maine Black Bears played like a desperate team on Friday night and turned in one of their best performances of the men’s hockey season at the expense of the nation’s fourth-ranked Merrimack College Warriors.
Freshman goalie Dan Sullivan made 15 saves to register his third straight shutout and Maine received goals from four different players en route to a thorough 4-0 victory over the Warriors in a penalty-filled affair.
The teams, who combined for 173 penalty minutes, will play again Saturday night at 7.
It will be Seniors Night as Maine’s five seniors (Tanner House, Josh Van Dyk, Mike Banwell, Jeff Dimmen and Robby Dee) will be honored.
Maine extended its Alfond Arena unbeaten streak against Merrimack to 22 games (20-0-2).
First-period power-play goals from Spencer Abbott and Van Dyk staked Maine to a 2-0 lead before House and Brian Flynn scored even-strength goals in the second period as Maine won its fourth straight game and improved to 15-10-6 overall, 12-8-4 in Hockey East.
Merrimack had its eight-game winning streak snapped as the Warriors fell to 21-6-4 and 15-6-3.
Sullivan was required to make just four Grade-A (high-percentage) saves as Maine carried the play from start to finish and protected the front of its net with workmanlike efficiency.
Maine outshot Merrimack 31-15.
Sullivan said he owed the shutout to his teammates.
“All five guys came back (defensively). It was a great team effort. It was phenomenal to see that kind of support,” said Sullivan, who is now 13:45 away from tying Jimmy Howard’s consecutive shutout minutes streak. “They really boxed out in front of me and limited their second chances.”
Merrimack senior left wing Chris Barton said Sullivan’s shutout streak is “pretty impressive, especially for a freshman. We didn’t test him like we wanted to tonight. But good for him.”
Barton added that “they did a really good job keeping us to the outside and we weren’t willing to go to that area (in front of the Maine net) tonight.”
“This was one of our best games of the year,” said junior left wing Spencer Abbott. “We desperately needed the points. We had to come out and play tight, clean hockey and explosive hockey and we did from start to finish.”
Abbott opened the scoring 4:27 into the game thanks to a fortuitous bounce.
Abbott took a pass from Gustav Nyquist in the right circle and tried to pass it to the far post.
However, the pass hit the right skate of Merrimack defenseman Jordan Heywood and deflected into the far corner of the net. It was Abbott’s 15th goal of the season.
“I didn’t have a shot and saw Flynn at the back door. If I had been able to get it through to him, it would have been a tap-in, but it hit the defenseman’s skate and went in.”
Van Dyk scored his second career goal and ended a 51-game goal-scoring drought by skating unattended down the slot, accepting a precise cross-ice pass from Abbott and wristing the puck past Merrimack goalie Joe Cannata.
“It’s been a while. It felt good,” said Van Dyk. “Spencer has great vision and he’s a great passer. He put it right on my tape. I put it up over the goalie’s shoulder to the short side. He was still coming across,” said Van Dyk.
Maine outshot Merrimack 8-1 in the first period.
“That was a good sign,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead.
House made it 3-0 at the 12:09 mark of the second period when he converted off a three-on-two.
House raced down the left wing unchecked and Kyle Beattie fed the puck across to him.
House took the pass in his skates, kicked it up to his stick and swept it past the helpless Cannata. It was his 10th of the year.
Flynn scored off a Nyquist pass from behind the net.
Nyquist circled the net and fed a pinpoint pass across to Flynn in the low slot, and he snapped home his 17th goal.
Abbott had two assists to go with his goal, and Nyquist had a pair of assists. Flynn had an assist to go with his goal.
Nyquist suffered a minor head injury when Merrimack College’s Kyle Bigos delivered a shot in the third period that earned the Warrior sophomore defenseman a five-minute major for contact-to-the-head roughing and a game disqualification which will prevent Bigos from playing in Saturday’s game.
Whitehead said Nyquist will be examined Saturday to see if he is able to play Saturday night.
Sullivan preserved his shutout late in the third period when he made a save off Mike Collins’ breakaway.
“I was able to get my blocker on it,” said Sullivan.
Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy said his Warriors “didn’t match Maine’s desperation and their special teams outperformed ours. We didn’t play as hard as we needed to. Their goalie had an 89 percent save percentage so they made sure we weren’t going to get (many) Grade-A’s. So we needed to be that much more determined (and we weren’t).”
Maine went 2-for-6 on the power play, while Merrimack went 0-for-5.