ORONO — University of Maine sophomore right winger Connor Leen said he and his Black Bear teammates tried to take a “road mentality” into Saturday night’s hockey game against Mercyhurst University in an attempt to win for the first time at Alfond Arena.
But it didn’t work.
Junior center Daniel O’Donoghue figured in all five goals with a hat trick, including two empty-net goals, and two assists and sophomore right wing Chris Bodo scored the game-winner on the power play with 9:21 remaining to lead Mercyhurst to a 5-2 triumph.
Mercyhurst is now 9-7-1 while Maine had its three-game winning streak snapped and fell to 5-12-2, including a school-record nine-game winless streak at Alfond Arena (0-7-2).
“We just went out there as a group of 20 guys battling for each other. We didn’t worry about trying to please the fans,” explained Leen. “Here, the crowd gets into our heads. Maybe we grip our sticks a little tighter. It has been tough for us. We’ve played a lot better on the road.”
At the outset of the game, it certainly appeared as though the Black Bears were going to collect that elusive first home win as Leen tapped a rebound into a half-empty net just 5:06 into the game and the Black Bears went on to totally dominate the first period.
But they couldn’t transform that dominance into a comfortable lead, squandering a number of chances to expand their lead, and the Lakers caught a break with 14 seconds left in the period when Paul Chiasson’s centering pass from the corner deflected into the net off a Maine defenseman’s stick.
The puck popped over the shoulder of Maine goalie Matt Morris.
“That really gave us momentum going into the second and third periods,” said O’Donoghue.
“That kind of crushed our spirit and we didn’t come out like we wanted to in the second period,” said Leen. “We let them hang around and it eventually bit us in the butt.”
“Not being able to extend the lead, with all of those glorious chances, ended up being the difference in the game,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead.
Maine outshot Mercyhurst 16-9 in the first period and had 20 Grade-A (high-percentage) scoring chances to Mercyhurst’s four.
But senior goalie Max Strang made 10 Grade-A saves, including a left-pad stop on Will Merchant’s breakaway backhander, and Maine hit two posts.
“(Strang) was clearly the difference. We could have been down 4-0 or 5-0 in the first period,” said Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin.
Strang finished with 43 saves, including 25 Grade-A’s. Morris had 28 of which 12 were Grade-A’s.
Mercyhurst carried play in the second period and O’Donoghue supplied the Lakers with a deserved lead by finishing off a long sequence of puck control in the Maine zone.
O’Donoghue and linemates Grant Blakey and Chiasson cycled the puck effectively and capitalized on Maine’s inability to clear the puck.
Eventually, Chiasson slid the puck from behind the net to O’Donoghue who came out front and pulled the puck around Morris before tucking it home.
Maine’s Kyle Beattie tied it on the power play 4:21 into the third period when he whacked a rebound past Strang after Leen had forced a save by tipping Mike Cornell’s point shot on goal.
But later in the period, with tri-captain Joey Diamond in the penalty box for goaltender interference, Bodo beat Maine defenseman Brice O’Connor to the net front and one-timed a Matthew Zay pass from the corner past the helpless Morris.
“I just wanted to cut in as hard as I could. I cut from left to right (across the low slot). I yelled (for the puck) and (Zay) made a nice pass. I was in the right place at the right time,” said Bodo, who one-timed the puck into the upper short-side corner past the blocker of the helpless Morris.
It was Bodo’s seventh power-play goal of the season which gives him a share of the national lead with Minnesota State’s Eriah Hayes.
“It was a bad pinch by me,” said O’Connor. “They moved it to the weak side, I got stretched out too far and (Bodo) was left all alone in front.”
“It was a beautiful play. We don’t score too many goals like that,” said Gotkin.
Maine had a chance to tie it when the Black Bears had a four-on-three power play and then pulled Morris in favor of the extra attacker.
But O’Donoghue won a defensive zone faceoff and it led to a clinching empty-netter with 1:35 left.
“I won the faceoff clean and our defenseman, Grant Gettinger, tried to clear it. But it hit the linesman’s skate and came to me. All three of their forwards were caught and Zay and I had a two-on-two. I was looking to pass it but their defenseman never came over to me so I figured I might as well go for it,” said O”Donoghue who added another 1:13 later.