For the University of Maine men’s hockey team, the last three games have represented the best of times and the worst of times.
On Jan. 25, Maine became the first team to beat New Hampshire when the Wildcats took a lead into the third period. The Black Bears rallied for three third-period goals to win 4-2. UNH had been 12-0 when leading after two periods.
The Black Bears survived an extra-attacker goal and benefited from having a potential game-tying second extra-attacker goal overturned by video review, to collect their first road win of the campaign, 2-1 over Notre Dame on Friday night. Maine had been 0-8-2 at opposing rinks.
On Saturday night, the Black Bears surrendered yet another extra-attacker goal with 1:08 left, and that set the stage for a deflating game-winning goal by the same player, Bryan Rust, just 24 seconds later.
Rust was left alone in the middle of the slot on the tying goal, and the Black Bears then allowed the speedy senior to skate from his own blue line virtually untouched before he faked a shot to get a better shooting angle around a Maine defenseman and then beat goalie Martin Ouellette to win it 3-2.
“We went over the [extra-attacker defense] on Saturday morning, but we still made mistakes,” said Maine coach Red Gendron. “They have to be eliminated in the future.”
He credited Rust with making a “great play” on the game-winner but said his players were guilty of poor positioning and execution.
“We didn’t get what we wanted. We wanted four points, and we got two,” said Gendron. “The bottom line is we didn’t get it done. It’s our fault. But we can’t change it. We have to move forward.”
In assessing the weekend, Gendron said, “We did a lot of good things in terms of forechecking and putting pressure on Notre Dame to cause them to turn the puck over in the offensive zone.
“But I didn’t like the way we played at times defensively in the neutral zone and defensive zone,” added Gendron. “We got two incredible performances from Martin Ouellette. He was our best player in both games.”
Ouellette made 75 saves on 79 shots as the Fighting Irish outshot the Bears 79-53.
Gendron also felt senior center Jon Swavely and freshman center Cam Brown were “very good “ all weekend.
Brown had a goal and an assist, and Swavely, although he didn’t figure in the scoring, was solid in all three zones.
Sophomore center Steven Swavely, Jon Swavely’s brother, returned to the lineup after missing four games with a knee injury and gave the team a lift.
Steven Swavely had an assist and played in all situations.
“He was very good, and he’s only going to get better,” said Gendron. “He did a good job grinding [on the forecheck] and was pretty good defensively. We’ve happy to have him back in the lineup.”
Maine was without freshman defenseman Eric Schurhamer, who suffered an ankle injury on Friday night, and junior center Stu Higgins, who is out for the season with a knee injury.
Senior goalie Dan Sullivan didn’t make the trip, but Gendron wouldn’t divulge the reason. Freshman Nik Nugnes was the backup.
By losing Saturday night, the Black Bears squandered an opportunity to move up the Hockey East standings and the Pairwise Rankings. The Pairwise Rankings mimic the NCAA Tournament selection process.
But the Black Bears remain tied for fourth with New Hampshire in the league, and they have played two fewer games than the Wildcats.
Boston College is well on its way to claiming the league’s regular season title with 27 points in 15 games. Teams earn two points for a win and one for a tie.
UMass Lowell has 20 points, Northeastern has 17, Maine and UNH have 16, Providence has 15, Vermont has 14, Notre Dame and UMass each have 11, Boston University has nine and Merrimack has six.
Maine, Providence, Boston University, Merrimack and Vermont have played 14 games; Boston College, UMass Lowell, Northeastern and Notre Dame have played 15 and UNH and UMass have played 16.
Everybody plays 20 league games.
Maine is 16th in the Pairwise Rankings.
Maine, 13-10-3 overall and 7-5-2 in Hockey East, entertains Merrimack (7-16-3, 2-10-2) on Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m., before they visit Northeastern for a pair and hosting Providence for two.
Merrimack is 1-11-2 on the road compared to Maine’s 10-1 home record. Merrimack has lost five of its last six.
But Mark Dennehy’s Warriors are 3-2-1 in their last six visits to Alfond Arena and are 7-2-2 in the last 11 overall meetings with Maine.
Gendron said his team has put itself in position to earn a home ice berth and a possible NCAA Tournament spot.
Maine sophomore Ben Hutton became the 17th defenseman in program history to score 10 goals in a season, when he scored a five-on-three goal on Saturday night at Notre Dame.
The record is 13 shared by Dwight Montgomery (1979-80), Jack Capuano (87-88) and Jeff Tory (94-95).
Hutton’s 10 goals lead the nation’s defensemen, and his six power play goals are also tops among the nation’s blue-liners. He is seventh in points per game at .85.
Ouellette is seventh among the nation’s goalies in save percentage (.932) and 11th in goals-against average (2.08), and sophomore center Devin Shore is tied for 15th among all scorers in points per game (1.23).