In a must-win set of games, the University of Maine men’s hockey team did its job in Durham Friday night, beating No. 4 University of New Hampshire 4-3. With the win, the Black Bears put themselves in great position to grab the eighth and final playoff spot for the Hockey East tournament.
With the win and a loss by the University of Massachusetts, the Black Bears clinched a spot in the Hockey East tournament.
“A lot of people counted us out all year and we can’t fault them,” said UMaine senior defender Mike Cornell. “We made it difficult for ourselves but we never lost faith. We’re happy to be in.”
The win at the Whittemore Center was the first for this group of seniors, as the Black Bears snapped a nine-game losing streak in Durham.
It was kind of several different types of games wrapped into one. It was exciting,” said UMaine head coach Tim Whitehead. “[UNH] did a great job coming back and making it tight at the end. It was hard fought.”
The Black Bears were led by senior center Kyle Beattie, who finished with two goals after missing most of February with concussion issues. It was the second time Beattie scored twice against UNH, doing it first in his sophomore season.
“It was great to see Kyle Beattie step up tonight,” Whitehead said. “I was very happy for him. It’s tough coming back after that long out.”
UMaine jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first period thanks to a short-handed goal by freshman Steven Swavely. After gaining control of the puck from fellow freshman Devin Shore, Swavely beat UNH sophomore Casey DeSmith to break the deadlock midway through the period.
After the tripping penalty by UMaine junior Brice O’Connor, UNH matched penalties late in the first period, as UNH junior Justin Agosta went to the box for roughing 19 minutes into the first period.
While the score stayed the same in the second period, the action picked up a bit, as the Black Bears fired 11 shots on target in the period, including one by freshman forward Will Merchant that rattled the post but ultimately stayed out of the net.
The third period brought the game close for a few seconds before the Black Bears ripped it open. Beattie gave UMaine a 2-0 lead before UNH was able to get on the board. Midway through the period, junior Dalton Speelman cut UNH’s deficit in half, tipping in a shot by junior Kevin Goumas.
Just 23 seconds later, Cornell responded with his fourth goal of the season. Nineteen seconds after that, Beattie clinched the game with his second of the game and seventh of the season.
“That’s huge for a team,” Beattie said of the two quick goals. “That shows character. I think earlier in the year if they score that goal, we might grip our sticks a little bit tighter. At this point, we’re a little more comfortable.”
Whitehead agreed with Beattie, insinuating that the early-season version of the Black Bears may have responded differently.
“That was a key moment. With the goals being reviewed it gives you a little time to compose yourself,” Whitehead said. “The guys did most of the talking. Being able to respond with two quick goals after they scored — I think our team has come a long way.”
A goal by junior defender Eric Knoedel gave UNH its second goal and senior forward Austin Block made it interesting with a goal with 20 seconds left, but the Black Bears were able to hold on.
“When we made it 4-1 they went all offense,” said UMaine junior goalie Martin Ouellette. “It was a close call but the guys played great, they blocked so many shots tonight.”
Ouellette finished the game with 31 saves.
“Going into playoffs, you have to have goaltending,” Cornell said. “Marty is playing tremendous hockey right now.
Since Christmas, the Black Bears are 9-6-5 and have secured at least the No. 8 seed in the Hockey East tournament. A win and a loss by Vermont could move the Black Bears up to No. 7.
UNH and UMaine square off for the regular season finale tomorrow at 4 p.m. The game can be seen on NESN.