ORONO — The University of Maine men’s hockey team’s futility at Alfond Arena continued on Saturday night.
Junior center Rhett Bly’s vital insurance goal with 9:07 left in regulation helped the Merrimack College Warriors post a 3-2 victory over Maine that extended Maine’s school-record winless streak at Alfond to 11 games (0-8-3).
Merrimack improved to 9-9-5 overall, 7-5-2 in Hockey East, while last-place Maine fell to 5-14-4 and 1-9-4, respectively.
Maine has scored only 14 goals in its 11 games at Alfond Arena while opponents have scored 35. The Black Bears have never scored more than two goals at Alfond and have been held to two goals or less in 20 of their 23 games overall.
The game was a microcosm of Maine’s season.
The Bears were able to generate some good scoring chances but rarely got second or third shots; the power play was inept ( 0-for-7, 6 shots on goal) and some of the penalties they took were untimely momentum-changers.
“It’s really frustrating,” said Maine junior goalie Martin Ouellette, who finished with 25 save including 13 of the Grade-A (high-percentage) variety. “We didn’t play bad but we didn’t play well enough to win. Wins and points are hard to get right now. We have to find a way to get some soon.”
“We’re obviously disappointed with the result, “ said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “It was a hard-fought game. The guys battled hard but we couldn’t find the equalizer. It’s tough to come from behind particularly in a year where we don’t have a lot of offense. But we kept fighting and came back [to within a goal] twice. [Jon] Swavely’s penalty was bad timing obviously. I thought we were going to tie it.”
Senior defenseman Kyle Bigos’ five-on-three goal with 1:24 remaining in the first period gave Merrimack a lead it would never relinquish.
Maine and Merrimack met for the third straight game and the Black Bears never had a lead in the three games.
Junior defenseman Jordan Heywood’s goal just 39 seconds into the second period made it 2-0.
Maine senior right wing Joey Diamond’s shorthanded breakaway goal with 1:03 left in the second period gave the Black Bears a badly-needed lift.
But the Black Bears couldn’t parlay that momentum into a tying goal and Bly gave the Warriors valuable breathing room.
Connor Leen pulled Maine within 3-2 with 4:39 left when he swept a wrister through the pads of Merrimack goalie Sam Marotta from a tough angle to the goalie’s left.
But Maine’s Jon Swavely was assessed an ill-advised interference penalty at the expense of Marotta with 2:50 left in regulation and Maine couldn’t get the equalizer.
Despite generating 11 Grade-A (high-percentage) scoring chances to Merrimack’s three in the first period, the Warriors’ Bigos scored the only goal when he was parked in the left circle and one-timed a cross-ice pass from Brendan Ellis into the far corner past the glove of Ouellette.
“[Ellis] realized I had a lane to the net and he found me. I just tried to hammer it on net,” said Bigos.
“There was kind of a screen and it was a good one-timer,” said Ouellette.
Heywood and Mike Collins teamed up on a pretty passing sequence off a two-on-one to expand the lead in the second period.
Brian Christie fed the puck to Collins on the left wing side and Heywood was able to skate past Leen, who was backchecking.
Collins flipped a pass over to Heywood and Heywood angled his stick perfectly and chipped the puck to the far side past the blocker of Ouellette.
Diamond scored his 50th career goal on a breakaway as he intercepted a cross-ice pass, broke in alone and beat Marotta to the stick side.
But Bly, who was in the middle of the low slot, regained the two-goal lead in the third period when he one-timed a deflected pass from Collins off Ouellette’s glove. Collins’ pass glanced off the skate of Maine defenseman Jake Rutt’s skate.
“It was a freebie in the slot and it caught the goalie off-guard. I tried to get the shot off quickly before the goalie could really move,” said Bly.
“It hit my glove and went up,” said Ouellette.
“We got a lucky bounce on that one,” said Collins, who had three assists. “That goal was huge.”
Leen gave Maine some energy with his team-high sixth goal and the Bears nearly tied it with two minutes left while shorthanded when Devin Shore made a determined rush down the right side and threw the puck to the net front where teammate Kyle Beattie was arriving at the doorstep. But Marotta kicked the puck away from danger with his pad.
“I thought we played really well for large portions of the game, especially in the first two periods,” said Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy. “We played harder and were more physical. The penalty-killing was good all weekend and [Marotta] was great.”
Marotta wound up with 22 saves including 15 Grade-A stops.