ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine’s hockey futility continued Sunday afternoon.
The Black Bears were outclassed by the University of New Hampshire Wildcats and absorbed a 4-0 setback at Alfond Arena that means the Black Bears are off to their worst start in Hockey East history.
New Hampshire capitalized on two early penalties to take a lead on senior right wing Austin Block’s power-play goal and never looked back. Block added another goal in the second period.
Maine is now 0-4 in Hockey East and 1-8 overall, including six straight losses, and 0-4 in Hockey East.
Maine’s previous worst start in Hockey East was 0-3 in the 1985-86 season. Hockey East’s inaugural season was 1984-85.
The Black Bears are also 0-5 at home. This matches the second-worst home start in program history, tying the 1981-82 team. The record is six.
It was the fourth time Maine has been shut out this season and Maine has now scored only 10 goals in nine games.
UNH improved to 5-1-1 and 3-1-1 in Hockey East.
Sophomore goalie Casey DeSmith made 42 saves in posting the shutout while Maine’s Dan Sullivan finished with a career-high 41 saves.
Conor Riley’s boarding penalty 1:19 into the game and Brice O’Connor’s tripping call 50 seconds later gave UNH a two-man advantage for 1:10 and Block scored four seconds after Riley’s penalty had elapsed.
Junior defenseman Eric Knodel’s goal after he came out of the penalty box with 1:17 left in the period made it 2-0. UNH dominated the first period to the tune of a 17-9 shots on goal advantage and could have been further ahead if it wasn’t for Sullivan’s nine Grade-A (high-percentage) saves.
Block’s second goal came with 4:39 left in the period. It came seven seconds after Maine had killed off an O’Connor slashing penalty.
Greg Burke added a third-period goal.
“We couldn’t find the balance between playing physical and staying out of the penalty box and it cost us right out of the gate,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead.
Maine senior tri-captain and right wing Joey Diamond said he helped get the team hyped up before the game but that translated into the early penalties “and [UNH] jump-started their offense on the power play.”
On the opening goal, Connor Hardowa made a nice diagonal cross-ice pass to Block in the left circle and he one-timed the puck into the short-side corner before Sullivan could scramble across.
“It was a perfect pass. I saw the goalie wasn’t in the net and I shot it as hard as I could,” said Block.
It appeared as though the Black Bears were going to escape the period with just a one-goal deficit but Knodel came out of the penalty box after serving a roughing penalty and Casey Thrush found him alone behind the Maine defense.
Knodel could have skated in alone on Sullivan but elected to tee up a slapshot from the middle of the high slot and he blasted it over Sullivan’s blocker.
“That was a great shot. I thought he was going to come in on me,” said Sullivan. “Next time I’ll be sure to come out more and take away that angle to discourage him from taking the shot.”
“That goal was huge,” said UNH coach Dick Umile.
The Black Bears played on more even terms with UNH in the second and third periods but the Bears couldn’t score as both goalies came up with several gems.
It was Block who gave UNH some helpful breathing room in the second period.
Block, positioned at the edge of the crease to Sullivan’s right, tipped a Hardowa point shot on net that Sullivan saved. But the rebound came right back to his stick and he jammed it home.
Burke capped the scoring by sweeping home a wrister from the right circle after his initial shot was blocked by Maine’s Mike Cornell.
DeSmith finished with 20 Grade-A (high-percentage) saves among his 42 but he faced very few second or third shots.
“The guys blocked a lot of shots and played fantastic defense. They kept most of the shots to the outside and that made my job real easy,” said DeSmith.
“The box score is deceiving,” said Maine senior defenseman and tri-captain Mike Cornell. “We had 42 shots but (UNH) wasn’t scrambling around as much as we were [in the defensive zone]. They were creating rebounds. A lot of our shots were from the perimeter or we were throwing them on net hoping for the best.”
Sullivan made 22 Grade-A stops among his 41.
“[Sullivan] is the last guy I would fault. He played a great game,” said Whitehead who felt his team took too long to release their shots.