NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — The University of Maine’s men’s hockey team ended Merrimack College’s season last year by winning the third game in their best-of-three Hockey East quarterfinal series in Orono.
The motivated Warriors got a measure of revenge on Saturday night by plunging the offensively-challenged Black Bears deeper into the Hockey East cellar by virtue of a comfortable 6-0 victory at Lawler Arena.
Junior goalie Sam Marotta made 30 saves in posting the shutout including 15 of the Grade-A (high-percentage) variety.
It was the sixth time Maine has been shut out this season and 12th time the Black Bears have been held to one goal or less.
It was the Warriors fifth win in the last six meetings with Maine at Lawler Arena.
Merrimack improved to 8-9-4 overall, 6-5-1 in Hockey East while Maine fell to 5-13-3 and 1-8-3, respectively.
The two teams will meet for a two-game series next Friday and Saturday nights in Orono.
“It’s a very tough loss,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “You’ve got to give credit to Merrimack. They played a great game in every aspect: goaltending, team defense and goal scoring.”
Whitehead said his team’s defensive play left a lot to be desired.
“We didn’t backcheck to the slot,” he said. “I don’t blame our goalies.”
He also said his defensemen didn’t do a good job getting the puck through to the Merrimack net from the point.
Maine had 26 shots blocked after having 31 blocked in a 1-1 overtime tie at Northeastern Friday night.
“The key tonight was the blocked shots,” said Marotta. “The guys were laying out for me, even when it was 6-0. It didn’t feel like a 6-0 game. Maine kept coming hard at us all the way until the end of the game.”
Junior left wing Mike Collins, Merrimack’s leading point-getter, scored a goal in each of the first two periods and also had an assist as the Warriors built a 5-0 lead.
Collins opened the scoring 15:06 into the first period and set up linemate Quinn Gould’s goal with 47.6 seconds left in the period.
John Heffernan and Vinny Scotti scored in the first 6:11 of the second period and that ended the night for Maine junior goalie Martin Ouellette, who was replaced by freshman Matt Morris.
Collins scored on the power play late in the second period and Brendan Ellis added a power-play goal in the third period.
Sophomore defenseman Dan Kolomatis picked up an assist on Collins’ first goal.
Kolomatis tracked down a puck along the right-wing boards and alertly fired a wrist a shot through a crowded goalmouth that was kicked out by Ouellette.
But Collins was left unattended at the top of the crease and he shoveled the rebound past Ouellette.
Gould extended the lead with 47.6 seconds left in the period with Collins serving as the provider.
Maine’s Brice O’Connor tried to keep the puck in at the right point but Collins blocked his keep-in attempt and busted down the left wing with O’Connor in pursuit.
O’Connor prevented Collins from breaking in alone but Collins spotted Gould cruising down the middle of the slot and passed it over to him.
“I knocked the puck down and tapped it over (to get a better shooting angle),” said Gould. “I just threw it on net and it deflected off one of their defenseman’s sticks.”
“It went straight up,” said Ouellette, who got beat to the blocker side.
Heffernan extended the lead 1:58 into the second period when Shawn Bates’ ambitious shot from the right side hit Ouellette’s stick and dropped behind him. Ouellette couldn’t find the puck and Heffernan jabbed it over the goal line before Ouellette could cover it.
“I should have had it,” said Ouellette.
“That goal was the turning point,” said Whitehead..
Scotti made it 4-0 when he swooped in on a John Gustafsson rebound and swept it behind Ouellette.
Collins scored his second with a one-timer into the short side from the top of the right circle off an Ellis feed and Ellis capped the scoring with a slapper from the left point that deflected in off a Maine stick.
“This is a tight rink and they play well here,” said Maine senior defenseman Mike Cornell. “We weren’t sharp defensively and you can’t afford not to be when you play them here.”
Maine outshot Merrimack 30-26 with Ouellette and Morris combining for seven Grade-A stops..
“That was one of the toughest 6-0 games I’ve ever been a part of,” said Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy. “Maine is way better than its record. They forechecked us hard and outplayed us for stretches of the game. They generated a lot of chances.
“The puck was jumping in the net for us tonight,” said Dennehy. “We were opportunistic and efficient. We had more poise with the puck than we did on Friday night (4-1 loss to Boston University).”
He also praised Marotta.
“He was pretty tight. He was on it tonight,” said Dennehy.