When the University of New Hampshire comes to town, every fan of the University of Maine men’s hockey team marks the date. Both nights saw the student section at the Alfond Arena filled to capacity over an hour before puck drop. On Friday, the Black Bears fed off the energy from the rocking crowd early in the contest, which they rode to a 6-3 victory. On Saturday, the script flipped and UNH dominated UMaine for the whole contest en route to a 5-2 victory.
In the first game, it only took UMaine 42 seconds to take the lead. Second-year forward Donovan Houle hit fellow second-year forward Lynden Breen in front of the net with a pass, and Breen buried it in the back of the net, giving UMaine the early 1-0 lead and igniting the Alfond.
Breen talked about the first goal of the night that he made with Houle’s help.
“The reason I love playing by [Houle’s] side is his effort … he made a nice play to me … [and] it was good to find the first [goal] tonight” Breen said.
The energy in the building Friday night was electric, and while UMaine soared, UNH sank. Just five minutes after the first goal, UMaine scored again. Third-year defenseman Dawson Bruneski’s shot from the top of the circle went off of fourth-year forward Jacob Schmidt-Svehstrup’s skate and past UNH fifth-year goalie Mike Robinson to put UMaine up 2-0.
With less than six minutes to go in the first period, UMaine scored two more goals. After a wayward UNH pass on a zone entry, the puck exited to the right, giving fourth-year forward Adam Dawe a clear breakaway. Dawe went top shelf past Robinson to score the game’s third goal. The fourth goal of the game was scored by third-year forward AJ Drobot. While he was falling, Drobot successfully whacked the puck past Robinson, marking his first score of the year and putting UMaine up 4-0 at the first intermission.
Head coach Ben Barr talked about the impact that the crowd had on the game and the players’ morale.
“I think it was amazing, especially when you get an early goal and it can snowball really quick. There’s not a lot of buildings in college hockey that that happens in, it was honestly the first time I’ve seen that here on the home side and it’s a huge home ice advantage. That might’ve been a one or two nothing game in the first period, and instead it’s four because our guys were just feeding off of adrenaline.”
UNH elected to pull Robinson from the game after the first period. Fourth-year David Fessenden took over between the pipes for UNH the rest of the night.
UNH finally got on the board nine minutes into the second period when fourth-year forward Filip Engrås put one past second-year UMaine goalie Victor Ostman to cut the lead to three. UNH’s joy was short lived, as only 34 seconds later Houle, for the second time that night, set Breen up for a goal. Breen sniped bar down past Fessenden, putting UMaine back up by four with the score at 5-1.
UNH again cut the lead to three when second-year forward Nick Cafarelli scored off a deflection, but once again UMaine responded, this time with the strangest goal so far this season. UMaine’s fifth-year forward Keenan Suthers was ejected from the game after officials deemed Suthers hit a UNH player in the head, giving UNH a five minute power play.
Just over a minute into the power play, the Black Bears found themselves in a precarious position. Three of the four UMaine players’ sticks had broken on the play, leaving third-year forward Ben Poisson as the only Black Bear skater with a stick. Poisson proceeded to pull off one of the most unlikely plays ever seen.
A UNH shot was blocked by fourth-year defenseman Simon Butala. Poisson reacted quickly and beat a UNH defender to the puck at the blue line, chipping it past the UNH defender and down the ice toward the Wildcats net. Poisson raced to the puck, but was beaten to it by Fessenden. Poisson blocked the goalie’s quickfire pass, leaving him with the puck and an empty net. Poisson buried it from a hard angle, putting UMaine up 5-2. The effort by Poisson sent the crowd into a frenzy.
Poisson talked about his unbelievable goal.
“What was going through my head I was just like, how do we only have one stick right now and then all of a sudden I was nearly on a breakaway, then I look up and I have an empty net …I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of such a crazy play.”
Barr also commented on Poisson’s breakaway goal.
“I’ve never seen anything like that before. [T]hat was one of those situations we may never encounter ever again.”
UNH scored the lone goal of the third period, but it was too little too late as the Black Bears closed out the contest 6-3.
The second night of the series saw UNH outshoot the Black Bears 28-7 in the first period alone. Despite this effort, the score was only 1-1 after the first period. The onslaught of UNH shots led to Ostman setting the UMaine single period save record with 27, breaking the record set by Jeff Nord in the 1979-80 season. Third-year forward Matthew Fawcett got the lone UMaine goal in the first period, which was also his first goal of the season.
Ostman was kept busy throughout the night because of UMaine’s amount of penalties they racked up. Most notably, Dawe received a five minute major for boarding in the first period that resulted in his ejection. Not only did this lead to the opening goal of the game for UNH, but it also put UMaine down a player on the bench for the second night in a row. Two more minors saw UMaine on the kill for almost half of the first period.
UMaine surprisingly took the lead 59-seconds into the second period, as Poisson drove to the UNH net with a partial breakaway. When a UNH defender closed in on him, Poisson shot into Robinson and the UNH defender took out Poisson as well as his own goalie. This collison sent Robinson and the puck into the net to give UMaine the 2-1 lead.
Unfortunately it all went downhill after this for UMaine. The Black Bears never fully gained their footing in the game, and were outworked by UNH for most of the night. Their only saving grace was Ostman, who was playing more like a wall than a human in the first two periods of the game, stopping 39 of the first 40 UNH shots.
UMaine’s fourth-year captain Jack Quinlivan talked about Ostman’s performance.
“He kept us in the whole game, he’s been playing outstanding lately. [I]f we didn’t have him, we’d be in big trouble.”
Despite Ostman’s effort, UNH eventually broke through, scoring three unanswered goals to take a 4-2 stranglehold. They capped the game off with an empty netter and ended the game with the Wildcats as the 5-2 victors.
After the game on Saturday, Barr compared the team’s performance throughout the two game series.
“Our energy level is basically what controls our team, and we didn’t have it tonight in any shape or form. Last night we score[d] a couple goals, [felt] good about ourselves, and tonight it’s a little bit more of a grind and we weren’t up to it.”
UMaine finally moved out of last place in the conference following the results of this weekend, leapfrogging Vermont who now sits at the bottom. At this point, the Black Bears are essentially locked into the bottom two positions in Hockey East, finishing last or second to last depends on how the rest of their games go.
The end of the season is rapidly approaching with only four games left before playoffs, but luckily for UMaine, every team qualifies for the Hockey East playoffs. Next weekend, UMaine travels to take on Providence College for a two-game series. The season concludes at home the following weekend with a two-game series against Boston University on March 4 and 5.