ORONO — University of Maine men’s hockey coach Tim Whitehead’s voice was barely audible.
He had just left a team meeting after his Black Bears had squandered a two-goal lead and allowed four third-period goals, including one by UMass Lowell sophomore defenseman Chad Ruhwedel with 34 seconds remaining, to suffer their fourth straight loss 4-3 Saturday night at Alfond Arena.
“They kicked our butts,” said a visibly distraught Whitehead, who announced that his players would not be available for comment. “A lot of things came together the wrong way for us. It was a combination of penalties, posts, missed opportunities.
“In the end, Lowell was the better team again tonight,” he added.
This is the longest losing streak since the Black Bears lost seven in a row from Feb. 20 to March 13, 2009. Since the outset of the 2007-2008 season, Maine has nine losing streaks of at least three games.
UMass Lowell, which had won Friday night’s game 5-3, earned its first Alfond Arena sweep since Feb. 8-9, 1985.
The River Hawks are now 5-3 overall, 3-2 in Hockey East, while Maine fell to 3-6-1 and 3-5.
After playing a nearly flawless two periods of hockey in which the swarming Black Bears limited the River Hawks to just two Grade-A (high-percentage) scoring attempts and only one power-play chance, Maine self-destructed by taking three consecutive penalties in a span of 4:50 and opportunistic UML cashed in on all three to take a 3-2 lead.
Maine’s Joey Diamond tied it on the power play with 8:08 left and the Bears were about to go on the power play with 2:30 remaining but freshman defenseman Jacob Rutt of Scarborough, who had an otherwise impressive debut, took a boarding penalty in the aftermath to turn it into a four-on-four and Ruhwedel capitalized off a two-on-one.
Brian Flynn’s first-period goal and Mark Anthoine’s second-period power-play goal had staked Maine to a 2-0 lead. The goal by Lewiston’s Anthoine snapped his 26-game goal drought.
Maine appeared to have a strong foothold in the game entering the third period.
But Lowell junior center Riley Wetmore scored a power-play goal at the 5:08 mark courtesy of a Ryan Hegarty interference call and Wetmore tied it 2:53 later on a five-on-three after a too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty and a holding call on Matt Mangene, who was without a stick and tackled Joseph Pendenza around the ankle.
Scott Wilson made it 3-2 by maneuvering around two Black Bears before roofing a wrister into the short (blocker) side.
In between their goals, the Black Bears hit two goal posts and a crossbar.
“All weekend, when we made mistakes, they made us pay,” said Whitehead. “There’s no excuses. We didn’t get it done.
“This one really hurts, it really hurts,” he said.
“Being down 2-0 in this building to that good of a team, it’s hard to come back,” Ruhwedel said. “But we got some power-play opportunities, we capitalized on them and we kept rolling from there.”
Ruhwedel’s game-winner occurred after Maine got three players trapped deep in the offensive zone while trying to score the go-ahead goal.
“They got a shot off and I left a rebound out front but the guys did a good job picking up sticks,” said UML goalie Doug Carr, who finished with 31 saves including 12 of the Grade-A variety. “We won that net front battle and [the play] went the other way.”
Pendenza passed it to Ruhwedel, who skated down the left wing with Matt Ferreira as a potential pass option.
“Normally, I’d look to pass first but their defenseman went down pretty early so I decided to fake the shot, cut to the middle and shoot,” said Ruhwedel, whose 16-foot wrister cleanly beat Maine goalie Dan Sullivan to the glove side.
Wetmore had triggered the rally when he took a few backward steps in the middle of the slot to get some separation and one-timed a David Vallorani pass into the far corner past Sullivan’s blocker.
“[Sullivan] cheated a little bit [to the near post],” said Wetmore, who tied it when Derek Arnold’s shot from the left circle went through a posse of legs, hit the far post and “was sitting right there” for him to tuck it home.
After Wilson’s second dazzling goal of the weekend, Diamond tied it by tipping O’Neill’s low snap shot behind Carr.
It was a similar play that opened the scoring only it was Flynn who deflected an O’Neill snap shot past Carr.
Anthoine extended the lead with 5:59 left in the middle period by busting down the left wing, pulling the puck across the top of the crease and jamming a backhander into the net.
UMass Lowell went 3-for-5 on the power play. Maine has allowed at least one power-play goal in five straight games (9-for-27) and at least two in three of the last four games.
Maine went 2-for-3 with the man advantage.
Sullivan finished with 23 saves, including eight Grade-A stops.