In an exhibition bout against the St. Francis Xavier University X-Men to start their season, the University of Maine Black Bears came out of the gates firing on all cylinders, showing an offensive prowess unfamiliar to the 3,828 attendees who packed into the Alfond Arena in a back and forth contest Sunday night.
It wouldn’t last long, however. Despite the Black Bears blanking the X-Men and notching three goals in the opening period, St. Francis Xavier capitalized on a plethora of Maine miscues in the middle stanza, besting the Black Bears to the tune of four consecutive goals and going on to win the contest by a 6-4 score.
“Them scoring on the first shift, that puts you back on your heels. I thought there were a little nerves at first but we settled in,” St. Francis Xavier Head Coach Brad Peddle said.
“We’re happy with the win. We didn’t like our start but we did recognize that it was their first game, they were going to come hard and they certainly did. After the first 10 minutes of the game we started to settle in,” Peddle said.
A handful of Maine penalties opened the door for St. Francis Xavier in the second period and the X-Men would make the most of every Black Bears miscue.
Maine was forced to kill off a pair of 5-on-3 penalties at the outset of the period, then a five-minute major penalty for a high stick, fighting off a couple of minor penalties in between. The end result would be four X-Men goals, three coming on the power play.
Third-year forward Eric Locke was awarded a goal for last touching a shot that deflected into the air and was inadvertently tipped into the net by Black Bears fourth-year goaltender Matt Morris, giving St. Francis Xavier their first advantage and one that they would not relinquish for the remainder of the contest.
“I don’t think we came out flat but I think that they just capitalized on a couple quick opportunities and that got us back on our heels,” Locke said.
“The power play took over, got us a couple big ones and got us back in it. Hockey is a game of momentum and when you have it you gotta run with it and when you don’t have it you’ve gotta try and settle the other team down and get momentum back.”
The first goal in the X-Men’s middle period rally came from second-year forward Holden Cook on the power play. Cook received a pass from first-year forward Bryson Cianfrone before sending a wrist shot through traffic and by Maine’s second-year goaltender Rob McGovern, who was screened and unable to make the play. McGovern started the contest for Maine and was replaced by Morris around 11-minute mark of the middle period.
X-Men third-year defender Jagger Dirk would cut the Black Bears lead to just one on a power play goal assisted by Cook. After fourth-year forward Cam Brown and second-year forward Dane Gibson failed to convert on a 2-on-1 opportunity in transition, St. Francis Xavier hustled to the other end of the ice, where Cook found Dirk on a vertical pass in the slot. All Dirk had to do was keep his stick on the ice, as the puck deflected off the tape of his stick and into the back of the net to inch the X-Men closer at 3-2.
Second-year left winger Nathan Pancel would knot the score at 3-3 on an easy goal that came during a five-minute major penalty assessed to Maine’s second-year forward Malcolm Hayes.
Pancel was posted up in the low slot without a Black Bear defender within five feet of him and received a pass from first-year defender Mitchell Wheaton, clapping the puck home on a backdoor pass that Morris and the rest of the Black Bears team failed to see.
“We basically spent the whole period killing penalties and when you have a good team with several good players who are very experienced — if you’re gonna put them on the power play for 12 minutes in a period, sooner or later they’re gonna figure out how to hurt you with it,” Black Bears Head Coach Red Gendron said.
A short-handed goal by second-year forward Mark Tremaine to start the third period would give the X-Men plenty of leverage for the rest of the contest. Maine’s fourth-year forward Blaine Byron would score on the power play and first-year forward Chase Pearson would notch a goal with an extra attacker in the third period, but an empty net goal late in the contest sealed the deal for St. Francis Xavier.
Maine had a hot start to the game but the X-Men responded well after giving up three consecutive goals in the first period.
After controlling the opening faceoff, Maine set up their offense in St. Francis Xavier’s end of the ice. On Maine’s second shift of the game, third-year forward Nolan Vesey found second-year forward Brendan Robbins cutting to the net and send a pass across the goalmouth that met with Robbins stick and found its way into the back of the net, with X-Men second-year netminder Brandon Hope unable to stop the puck from sneaking between his outstretched leg and the post to give Maine an early 1-0 advantage.
“It [the first goal] was awesome. Great to see and obviously when you can score right away and get the crowd into it, it’s a daunting place to play,” Brown said.
Maine doubled its lead when Brown set up a grade-A scoring opportunity for his new teammate, first-year forward Jake Pappalardo.
Capitalizing on a St. Francis Xavier miscue, Brown corralled a loose puck in the offensive end that an X-Men defender failed to clear. Brown cycled the puck back to fourth-year defender Eric Schurhamer, who sent a slap shot on net that deflected off the shoulder of Hope and back out into the crease. Pappalardo was in perfect position, backhanding the puck over Hope’s shoulder and into the back of the net to double the Black Bears lead.
Schurhamer tallied a third Maine goal before the opening period concluded. First-year forward Patrick Shea sent a point-to-point pass to Schurhamer, who immediately pulled the trigger on the opportunity and found the back of the net. On its way towards the net, Schurhamer’s puck deflected off of traffic in front of the net and made its way through Hope’s five-hole, giving Maine a 3-0 lead.
“I thought we started off strong and actually ended pretty strong. There’s points we can learn from and points we can keep going with and there’s a lot of strong things I think we all saw on the younger guys, and what guys can bring to the table. I think that’s something we can take to RPI weekend,” Brown said.
“I really like our team,” Gendron said. “The fact of the matter is we played pretty well overall 5-on-5 except maybe the first four or five minutes of the first period. Other than that, we were outstanding 5-on-5.”