The University of Maine men’s hockey team received the opportunity to play its first home game of the season on Wednesday for the first round of the Hockey East playoffs.
But it turned out to be a forgettable night instead of a memorable one. Tenth-seeded New Hampshire turned in an impressive performance, scoring the game’s first two goals and dominating all aspects of the game to blister the eighth-seeded Black Bears 7-2 in an empty Alfond Arena in Orono.
The state and University of Maine system worked out a COVID-19 safety blueprint that allowed UMaine to play a home game after the Black Bears had played exclusively on the road because of the state’s 50-person limit for indoor gatherings.
Senior goalie Mike Robinson, who went into the game with a dismal 5.40 goals-against average and .784 save percentage over his last four appearances, turned in a solid 20-save performance.
UMaine freshman Victor Ostman made 29 stops.
It is only the second time in UMaine program history that the Black Bears have failed to advance in the Hockey East playoffs after hosting a playoff game or series.
The 2002-03 UMaine team was swept at Alfond Arena by Massachusetts.
UMaine is now 32-5 in Hockey East playoff games in Orono.
“This was disappointing for everyone involved,” UMaine head coach Red Gendron said. “We didn’t play well. We simply didn’t have it. New Hampshire deserved to win.
“You’re going to have bad nights and you hope you don’t have one in the playoffs. But we did,” he said.
The 6-13-3 Wildcats, who were 0-4 in playoff games at Alfond Arena, were able to overcome an 18-day span without a game to advance in the single-elimination format.
UNH plays regular-season champion Boston College on Sunday in Boston.
UMaine, which lost two forwards to injuries in the first period, finished at 3-11-2.
The game’s pivotal goal occurred at the 10:21 mark of the middle period with UNH holding a 3-2 lead.
The Black Bears had an opportunity to tie it on the power play against the nation’s worst penalty killing unit (64.3 percent), but Tyler Ward scored a short-handed goal to take the wind out of UMaine’s sails.
Ward received a pass from Filip Engaras and broke in alone on Ostman before snapping a wrister over the goalie’s glove.
“We just weren’t able to sustain any momentum,” Gendron said.
UNH built its first three-goal goal just a minute into the third period when Engaras took full advantage of a costly UMaine turnover. He wheeled and fired the puck over Victor Ostman’s shoulder from the middle of the slot.
Luke Reid added an empty net goal and Lucas Herrman scored on the power play goal to make it 7-2.
The Black Bears carried the play in the early going but Robinson came up with some timely saves to keep the game scoreless. The Wildcats established some momentum with an impressive first power play even though Ostman stymied the Wildcats with some good stops.
The Wildcats began taking the game over midway through the period and Eriksson supplied them with a lead with three minutes left. He flipped the puck toward the net from the left point and the soft wrister made its way through a posse of bodies and beat Ostman for his sixth goal of the season.
UNH outshot UMaine 19-7 and generated nine shots on goal during three power plays. UMaine had one power play and mustered only one shot on goal.
It was a costly first period for UMaine as linemates A.J. Drobot and Emil Westerlund left the ice with injuries, leaving the Black Bears with just 10 healthy forwards for the rest of the game.
Eric MacAdams extended the lead for UNH on the power play early in the second period to trigger a wild flurry of four goals in a span of 2 minutes, 49 seconds. He jammed home a rebound to open the scoring.
UMaine’s Adrien Bisson cut the lead in half 46 seconds later when he snapped a wrist shot past Robinson from the right faceoff circle off an Adam Dawe pass.
Jackson Pierson answered for UNH 35 seconds after that. He had an open channel down the right wing and beat Ostman with a wrist shot to the far corner.
UMaine’s Lynden Breen capped the offensive burst 1:39 later, roofing a wrister from a tough angle to Robinson’s right.
UMaine entered the game as the nation’s second-most penalized team and again hurt itself with its lack of discipline as it gave UNH seven power plays.