ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine received a valuable tune-up against a hard-working St. Francis Xavier hockey team in a 4-1 exhibition victory Tuesday night at Alfond Arena.
Sophomore left wing Will Merchant scored a pair of goals to lead the Black Bears.
Exhibition games are useful evaluation tools and Maine coach Red Gendron said Merchant and freshman right wing Brady Campbell, who have both been in and out of the lineup, were two of the bright spots.
“[Merchant] had a good game and I thought he was dominant down low in the third period,” said Gendron. “He used his size and skating ability [to full advantage]. We haven’t seen that from him this season. And scoring a couple of goals will give his confidence a boost.”
Merchant agreed with his coach.
“That’s how I have to play,” said Merchant noting he is one of the team’s bigger forwards and needs to use his size and speed to win pucks and get to the net front.
Gendron said Campbell was “terrific” as he was tenacious on the puck and made plays while joining fellow freshmen Cam Brown and Brian Morgan on a line.
Merchant and Devin Shore supplied the Black Bears with a 2-0 lead by scoring 5:08 apart early in the first period and Billy Norman extended the lead 9:09 into the middle period before Rob Slaney pulled one back for the X-Men of Antigonish, Nova Scotia, 1:40 after Norman’s goal.
Merchant added a third-period goal.
Merchant opened the scoring at the 5:39 mark when Norman pushed the puck across to him, bursting down the right wing.
Merchant’s backhander from the faceoff dot trickled through the pads of St. Francis Xavier goalie Drew Owsley.
Shore expanded the lead by gloving down a head-high pass from Dan Renouf in the middle of the slot and wristing a 25-footer through Owsley’s pads,
The game was part of Hockey East’s Skating Strides initiative for breast cancer awareness and was played on a pink ice sheet.
Norman, playing in place of Connor Leen on a line with Shore and Ryan Lomberg in the second period, made it 3-0 just one second after an X-Men penalty expired.
Leen left the game after the first period and didn’t return. Gendron wouldn’t discuss the situation.
Norman gained the puck along the boards to the left of Owsley, took a few strides and snapped a wrister shot past the blocker of Owsley.
Slaney answered quickly as a Brown turnover led to a three-on-two and he converted a Jason Bast past with a 20-foot wrister that beat Dan Sullivan blocker-side.
But Sullivan was sharp and that was the only goal he was to concede. He finished with 25 saves.
“Dan was very good. He made seven or eight real good saves,” said Gendron.
“I saw the puck pretty well,” said Sullivan. “And the guys supported me.”
Merchant’s insurance goal came off an errant cross-ice pass as he beat Morgan Clark with a wrister blocker-side.
Third-string goalie Matt Strickrott, who handles the video for the team, played the last 6:35 and made three saves.
Gendron said there were some “huge positives” including a solid third period after sub-par third-period performances against Quinnipiac and Boston University.
He felt St. Francis Xavier was a quality opponent.
“They’re a good team,” said Gendron. “They have a lot of older players and if we made a mistake, they generated chances.”
X-Man center Steven Kuhn and defenseman Gabriel O’Connor thought the team played well after the first period.
“We were a little overwhelmed in the first period. We aren’t used to play in front of large crowds. It was a fun experience,” said O’Connor.
Both said Maine’s speed was noticeable.
“They have a lot of speed,” said Kuhn.
Maine had a 36-29 edge in shots on goal.