ORONO, Maine — University of Maine fifth-year hockey coach Red Gendron said his youthful team continues to progress and Saturday night’s 6-2 win over Vermont, following a 2-2 tie Friday night in which the Catamounts scored a pair of late third-period power-play goals, validated his claim.
The Black Bears took a 4-2 lead into the third period and protected it efficiently while adding senior left wing Nolan Vesey’s second goal of the game and sophomore defenseman Patrick Holway’s shorthanded empty-netter.
UMaine improved to 6-7-1 overall, 4-4-1 in Hockey East, while Vermont fell to 4-10-2 and 1-6-2, respectively.
“Our team is maturing,” Gendron said. “We’ll take some lumps like we did Friday night. Everybody felt it was a Debbie Downer and that we should have won the game.
“At the same time, once the game ended, nothing could be done about it, and it’s about how you respond. Our team has responded pretty well to disappointment all year long. I see the team growing all the time in every way imaginable,” Gendron said.
“We learned a lesson Friday night. The game is never over, especially in the third period,” said Holway, one of 12 freshmen and sophomores in the lineup. “You can’t be taking penalties and things like that. We buckled down defensively tonight. We tried to make simple plays at our blue line to get the puck out [of our defensive zone].”
UMaine spotted Vermont a 1-0 lead on Brian Bowen’s power-play goal 4:19 into the game before answering with first period power-play goals by Chase Pearson and Tim Doherty.
Brendan Robbins’ goal 3:15 into the middle period expanded the lead to 3-1 before Craig Puffer scored Vermont’s fourth power-play goal of the weekend.
But Holway set up Vesey’s goal against the run of play with just 1:55 remaining in the period to restore the two-goal cushion and Vesey sewed up the victory with a power-play goal at the 13:14 mark of the third period. Holway’s empty-netter came with 21 seconds left.
“Give Maine a lot of credit. They played really well this weekend,” Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon said. “This team is much better than last year’s team. Red and his staff have done a nice job. They play hungry and keep it simple.
“The story for us is we can’t score five-on-five right now. Our power play did a great job but when you give up five-on-five goals and aren’t producing any, it’s tough to win hockey games,” Sneddon added.
It was the first time this season UMaine had scored three power-play goals in a game, and it snapped a string of four games without one.
The Black Bears were three-for-six with the man advantage while Vermont was two-for-five for the second straight night.
Freshman goalie Jeremy Swayman made 39 saves, including 21 of the Grade-A (high-percentage) variety, to post his seventh straight game allowing two goals.
He had 12 of those Grade-A’s in the second period when Vermont had a decided edge in play, outshooting UMaine 20-9.
“I was just taking things one shot at a time,” Swayman said. “It wasn’t all my doing. I definitely got a lot of help from my defense. They blocked a lot of shots at key times.”
The Black Bears blocked 16 shots.
Sophomore Stefanos Lekkas, who was 3-0-2 in five career starts against UMaine and had never allowed more than two goals in a game, made 28 saves, including 16 Grade-A’s, and allowed five goals.
“It was an outstanding effort by our guys,” Gendron said. “The team played great defense and when it did break down, our goalie did his job. Jeremy played great.”
Bowen opened the scoring with a well-placed wrister from the middle of the slot past Swayman’s glove, but UMaine co-captain Pearson tied it by deflecting a Rob Michel wrister past Lekkas on a five-on-three to snap his 15-game goalless drought dating back to last season.
Doherty gave the Black Bears the lead for good by flipping his own rebound past a sprawled Lekkas after Alexis Binner’s one-handed poke pass to him.
Robbins fired a wrister past Lekkas from the middle of the slot after Brady Keeper’s shot, on which he shattered his stick, went off a Catamount right to him.
Puffer swatted home a loose puck during a goalmouth scramble, but Vesey scored the all-important fourth goal after a terrific rush by Holway down the left wing. Holway threw a pass across the slot to Mitch Fossier, who fanned on it. But Vesey pounced on the loose puck, skated to the center point and wristed the puck through a posse of players past the screened Lekkas.
Vesey added his fifth goal of the season late in the third period by tapping the puck into a half-empty net off a pinpoint pass from Pearson, who had received the puck from Fossier.
Holway had two assists to go with his goal, and Fossier had three assists. Ross Colton, who had both Vermont goals Friday, had two assists Saturday.
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