NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — The University of Maine men’s hockey team is leaking goals and it could cost the Black Bears home ice for the Hockey East playoffs.
Junior right wing Bobby Kramer’s first goal of the season and second in 54 career games snapped a 3-3 tie and triggered a three-goal flurry that provided the Merrimack College Warriors with a 6-3 win over the fading Black Bears at Lawler Arena Friday night.
Stephane Da Costa, the nation’s top-scoring freshman, made it 5-3 2:49 later with a brilliant individual effort, and Fraser Allen capped the spree 1:29 after that.
Merrimack improved to 14-16-1 overall, 11-12-1 overall, while the Black Bears fell to 15-13-3 and 12-10-2, respectively.
Maine has now lost four of its last five and is 1-5-1 in its last seven road games.
Merrimack is now 12-2 at home. That represents the most home wins since Merrimack jumped from Division II to Division I in 1989-90. It also marks the first time in its Hockey East history dating back to 1989-90 that it has beaten every league team in a season.
Chris Barton’s second goal of the game for Merrimack just 14 seconds into the third period broke a 1-1 tie and Kyle Bigos extended the lead 1:59 later.
But David deKastrozza and Jeff Dimmen answered with goals just 41 seconds apart to tie it again.
Maine’s momentum was short-lived as Kramer converted off a four-on-two 43 seconds later.
Ryan Flanigan carried the puck down the right wing and slid it across to Kramer in the left circle, and he one-timed it home.
“Carter Madsen skated down the middle and their two defensemen went with him. Flanigan made a great pass, I opened up for it and put it short side before the goalie [Scott Darling] could get across,” said Kramer.
Maine coach Tim Whitehead said it was a costly defensive breakdown that led to the goal.
“Spencer Abbott was tripped in the offensive zone, but it wasn’t called. David deKastrozza and Robby Dee both went to the puck in the corner instead of recognizing the situation [and backing off],” explained Whitehead.
Da Costa expanded the lead when he stickhandled past a few Black Bears and split the defense before roofing a wrister.
“I saw some open space, faked a shot and when the goalie went down, I put it over him,” said Da Costa.
Allan scored with a blast from the top of the slot after Kevin Swallow tripped and fell in front of Darling.
“Our defensive play is our big issue and we’ve got to do a better job on faceoffs,” said Whitehead, whose Bears have allowed four or more goals in five consecutive games. Merrimack had a 47-35 edge in faceoffs.
“Right after we came back to tie it, we stopped playing again,” said Maine sophomore right wing Gustav Nyquist. “Our effort wasn’t good enough tonight.”
“What did they score, at least three goals off the rush?” asked Maine junior defenseman and assistant captain Dimmen. “Our gapping wasn’t very good.”
Tanner House staked Maine to a 1-0 lead with a five-on-three power-play goal 13:32 into the first period as he snapped a 10-footer past the glove of Joe Cannata off a Brian Flynn pass.
Barton equalized 2:01 later when his one-timer off a diagonal pass from Da Costa knuckled over Darling’s glove.
The Bears had three power plays in the second period but couldn’t convert as the Warriors pressured them all over the ice and forced them into turnovers and poor decisions with the puck while also blocking a lot of shots.
Maine, which boasts the nation’s best power play, went just 1-for-7 through the first two periods, while Merrimack had just one chance and didn’t convert.
Joey Diamond was sent in alone by a Nyquist flip pass in the middle period, but he couldn’t elevate the puck after pulling it across the top of the crease, and Cannata made a great glove save.
Barton made it 2-1 with his 19th goal of the season following an early faceoff to Darling’s right. Justin Bonitatibus’ shot deflected in the air and dropped just outside the crease where Barton swept it past the helpless Darling.
Bigos expanded the lead with a rising wrist shot from the top of the left circle over Darling’s glove.
DeKastrozza scored on the power play by tucking home a Josh Van Dyk rebound from the low slot, and Dimmen tied it with his eighth goal in nine games by sneaking in the back door and one-timing a cross-ice pass from House past Cannata.
Maine went 2-for-9 on the power play while Merrimack was 0-for-2.
“We put three people on the puck [in the defensive zone],” said Barton, explaining the penalty-killing strategy.
“They did a good job. They blocked a lot of shots,” said Nyquist.
“I thought we carried the play when it was five-on-five,” said Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy.
Maine outshot Merrimack 37-31. Dave Wilson relieved Darling for the final 6:37 and saved the only shot he faced.
The line of Da Costa (1 goal, 2 assists) between Barton (2 goals) and Bonitatibus (3 assists) combined for three goals and five assists.