ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine’s men’s hockey team expected a low-scoring, tight-checking Hockey East quarterfinal series against stingy Merrimack College and the Warriors’ outstanding senior goalie Joe Cannata.
That came to fruition Friday night but the Black Bears used second-period goals from Joey Diamond and Kyle Beattie to erase a 1-0 deficit and post a hard-fought 2-1 win.
Dan Sullivan finished with 20 saves but just six of those were of the Grade-A (high-percentage) variety as the Black Bears did a thorough job defensively and spent a lot of time in the Merrimack end where they peppered 43 shots at Cannata.
Cannata wound up with 41 saves of which 13 were Grade-A’s.
“It was a battle,” said Sullivan. “We got a lot of shots but Joe did a great job and, luckily, we were able to get two past him.”
Maine improved to 21-11-3 overall while Merrimack fell to 17-11-7. The teams will play game two on Saturday at 7 p.m.
Diamond and Beattie scored 4:14 apart midway through the second period and Maine protected the lead.
Mike Collins staked the Warriors to a 1-0 lead with a power-play goal in the first period.
Maine has now allowed just two goals in its last three games.
“It’s the playoffs and you have to play both sides of the puck. I thought we played very well tonight,” said Maine senior left wing Spencer Abbott, whose long pass set up Diamond’s tying goal on a breakaway.
Diamond had come off the bench on a line change and was all alone behind the Warrior defense at the offensive blue line.
“The whole bench was yelling at me to pass it to Joey,” said Abbott.
Diamond had plenty of time to pick his spot and he put it over Cannata’s glove.
“I made a head fake to extend him a little and then I put it upstairs,” said Diamond, whose goal was his 23rd of the season.
Stu Higgins also picked up an assist on the goal.
Beattie scored his sixth goal 4:14 later from the base of the faceoff circle to Cannata’s left.
“John and I worked an exchange and I think it threw their defensemen off,” said Beattie. “I saw a little room (on the short side) and I just tried to get it off quick.”
“He put it glove side,” said Cannata.
Brice O’Connor and Parker notched assists.
Maine outshot Merrimack 19-6 in the second period but Cannata made six Grade-A saves to keep his team within striking distance.
Merrimack mustered just one Grade-A shot on goal in the middle period and that was saved by Sullivan.
Collins scored his 10th of the year at the 15:33 mark of the first period and it came with 41 seconds left on a five-minute power play resulting from an elbowing penalty on Jon Swavely.
Swavely was also assessed a game misconduct but will be able to play on Saturday.
Sophomore center Shawn Bates, the victim of the hit, had to be taken to the locker room and didn’t return. He was taken to a local hospital after the game.
Collins took a pass from Connor Toomey, curled out of the corner to the left of Sullivan and snapped the puck over the goalie’s glove into the short-side corner.
Maine outshot Merrimack 12-7 in the period but Cannata stopped them all including four of the Grade-A (high-percentage) variety.
The Warriors mounted some sustained pressure in the third period but Sullivan was sharp and came up with four of his six Grade-A saves in the final 20 minutes.
Sullivan made one save on a three-shot flurry by Jesse Todd on a Merrimack power play early in the period and his defense blocked the other two.
Later in the period, Rhett Bly was able to get half a step on Maine defenseman Mark Nemec as he busted down the left wing but Sullivan came out and held the short side to make the save.
The Warriors also had a few flurries after Cannata came to the bench in favor of the extra attacker but Sullivan made a few saves and Maine was able to get a few vital clears.
“We worked really hard,” said Beattie. “We had a great crowd and that raised our energy level.”
Maine coach Tim Whitehead said it was “exactly what we expected.
“It was a hard-fought game. Both goalies were fabulous. There was a lot of traffic in front of both of them. It was very challenging for them.”
He was pleased with his team’s performance, saying they stayed focused and executed the game plan throughout.
Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy and senior center Todd said the Warriors didn’t play up to potential.
“The first two periods we were really scrambly. We did a lot of circling,” said Dennehy. “We executed the game plan in the third and got some pretty good looks.
“With the exception of Cannata and (defenseman Karl) Stollery, our best players didn’t play their best,” said Dennehy.
“There was a lack of effort in the first and second periods,” concurred Todd. “We didn’t play our game.”