In their final regular-season series, the University of Maine Black Bears mens’ hockey faced off this past weekend against the University of Massachusetts Amherst Minutemen. While UMaine entered fighting for a chance to earn a first-round bye, they struggled in both games, losing 5-2 and 4-3 and dropping to the No. 6 seed. This marks the first time the Minuteman swept UMaine at the Alfond Arena since 2010.
The Black Bears entered this series sitting at 15-13-5, coming off last weekend’s sweep of Boston College where they won 6-3 and 2-1. Coming into this weekend, UMaine was playing for the chance to have a first-round bye had they won both games. The Minutemen entered sitting at 11-16-5 after splitting their series against Northeastern last weekend.
The Black Bears are set to graduate six seniors, those being team captain fourth-year defenseman Jakub Sirota, fourth-year forward Didrik Henbrant, fourth-year forward Ben Poisson, fourth-year defenseman Dawson Bruneski, fifth-year forward Justin Michaelian and fourth-year forward Matthew Fawcett.
On Friday, UMass got the scoring going just 55 seconds into the first period when fourth-year forward Reed Lebsters’ shot missed; it deflected off of fellow fourth-year forward Cal Kiefiuk and the Black Bears could not clear it, resulting in a putback from second-year defenseman Scott Morrow for the early 1-0 lead. UMaine answered with under four minutes to go. First-year forward Thomas Freel was able to skate the length of the ice and, with a beautiful backhand pass, found last month’s America East player, third-year forward Lynden Breen, for the goal, tying the game going into the second.
After neither team was able to score in the second, it was UMass who opened the floodgates in the third when second-year forward Taylor Makar, younger brother of last year’s Conn Smythe winner Cale Makar, was able to use his speed and strength to get past UMaines’ Bruneski for the lead. The Minutemen continued building their lead when Ryan Lautenbach’s pass through traffic found Owen Wilson, who was able to go high glove over third-year goalie Victor Ostman for the two-goal lead. Makar scored once more, adding more insurance after being found open in front of the net for the commanding 4-1 lead.
The Black Bears finally responded when Freel’s pass from the other neutral zone found Breen, who was able to score on a 2-1 fast break bringing the deficit down to two goals. However, it was all for naught, as when UMaine pulled Ostman, the Minutemen’s Kiefiuk scored almost immediately, putting the game out of reach.
Ostman finished the game, saving 16-21 shots, though the offense did him no favors with their opportunities. Third-year goalie Cole Brady and the UMass defense played well all night saving 29-31 shots.
There was only one powerplay opportunity all game, resulting in no points for the Black Bears. The Minutemen owned the faceoffs going 26-19, with Breen doing the best for UMaine going 8-7.
Game two started the same way game one started: after a scrum behind the Black Bear net, Webster found Kiefiuk curling around the net for the first point of the game. Later in the first, while on the power play, Webster once again found Kiefiuk just outside the right faceoff circle and Kiefiuks’ wrist shot got past Ostman at the top left corner giving UMass the 2-0 lead heading into the second.
In the second, the Minutemen continued pouring it on offensively as Lebster was not able to get a shot off down low but was able to kick it out to Morrow, who scored off the power play from the left faceoff circle to increase the lead to three. UMaine was finally able to get on the board when Sirota shot and Poisson got the rebound, tipping the puck to second-year forward Nolan Renwick whose one-timer was good, cutting the deficit to two going into the third.
The Black Bears were able to cut the deficit to within one goal after second-year defenseman David Breazeale’s shot missed and Poisson was right there to put back the rebound, putting UMaine within striking distance of tying the game. This momentum did not last long, however, as third-year defenseman Aaron Bohlinger found a streaking second-year forward Lucas Mercuri, whose one-timer was good to go back up by two. This lead would vanish almost immediately as Breens’ touch pass would find Sirota off the fast break for the goal, making it a one-score game once more. While the Black Bears had opportunities to tie the game, the UMass defense proved to be too much as they would fall 4-3.
While UMaine had considerably more shot opportunities than the Minutemen had, they did not make them count while UMass did, proving to be the difference between winning and losing in this one. Ostman and the defense struggled as he was only able to save 10 of 14 shots on goal. Brady played well once more saving 35 of 38 shots on goal.
Unlike the previous game, both teams had three power-play opportunities and both went 1-3 on them. Faceoffs were near even with UMass winning 26-23. Breen was the best on faceoffs going 11-10.
The Black Bears will enter the playoffs as the No. 6 seed but will stay home to face their rivals the University of Vermont Catamounts on Wednesday, March 8 at 7 p.m.