After two hard fought games this past weekend, the University of Maine men’s hockey team still has yet to win a game. From the eye test they are far from being pushovers, but their 0-7-1 record would tell you otherwise.
The University of Connecticut traveled up to Orono for a two-game series and they walked out with two wins. Neither win came easy for the Huskies, as both games were tied going into the later parts of the third period. Sadly for the Black Bears, it was UConn that was able to find the winning goal that UMaine so desperately craved in both contests.
UMaine opened the scoring in the first game when third-year defender Adrien Bisson beat fifth-year UConn goalie Darion Hanson in the later part of the first period. This goal put UMaine up 1-0 after the first, and it ended up being the only time UMaine led during the entirety of the weekend.
UConn’s forward core is loaded with talent, with six of UConn’s top nine forwards having already been drafted into the NHL. One of these players is third-year forward Vladislav Firstov. The Russian showed why the Minnesota Wild spent a second round pick on him in 2019 when Firstov’s slapshot from the blueline found the back of the net on a powerplay early in the second period.
Another NHL drafted player on UConn is second-year forward Ryan Tverberg. The Toronto Maple Leafs prospect has been on a hot streak to start off the season, and that continued. First-year UConn forward Chase Bradly, who is a Detroit Red Wings prospect, found Tverberg on a cross crease pass eleven minutes into the second period to give UConn their first lead of the weekend 2-1.
UMaine may not have the high end talent that UConn does, but they play with a lot of heart and resilience. With under three minutes left in the second period, first-year defenseman David Breazeale fired a pass through the slot, and it ended up finding fourth-year forward Grant Hebert who put the puck past Hanson. The goal tied the game 2-2.
UConn immediately took back the lead 30 seconds later. UMaine was attempting to transition the puck out of their defensive zone, and as soon as they got it out Firstov stripped fifth-year defenseman Cameron Spicer of the puck. This created a three-on-one against UMaine third-year defender Adrien Bisson who slipped making it a three-on-none. Firstov fired a pass across to second-year forward Artem Shlaine. Shlaine’s attempt was stopped, but Tverberg put the rebound past third-year UMaine goalie Matthew Thiessen to put UConn up 3-2 heading into the third.
UMaine miraculously scored just six seconds into the third period. Fourth-year defender Jakub Sirota received the puck off the opening faceoff and fired a shot from mid-ice, and to everyone in the building’s surprise it went in. Hanson was caught off guard by the shot and did not react to it in time. With almost the whole third period to play, the game was tied 3-3.
Second-year UMaine forward Donovan Houle just over halfway through the period drove hard to the net on a power move. Houle made contact with Hanson and this sent Houle to the penalty box on a goaltender interference call. It took UConn 12 seconds on the powerplay to take back the lead.
The faceoff following the penalty was won by UConn and Tverberg sent the puck down to big six-foot-five-inch fourth-year forward Jachym Kondelik. Kondelik made a nifty net front move and put the puck past Thiessen to put UConn up 4-3. UConn closed out the game and secured the victory at that score.
Night two saw UMaine head coach Ben Barr make several changes to his lines. Most notably he brought Houle up from the fourth line to the first and moved fourth-year forward Adam Dawe to the second line down from the first. Another change for UMaine was in the net, as backstopping the Black Bears on Saturday was second-year goalie Victor Ostman.
UConn took the first lead of the game in the late stages of the first period. With time expiring on a UConn powerplay, Tverberg fooled the UMaine defense with a fake shot, exposing the defense and creating enough of an opening for Tverberg to rifle one past Ostman. It was Tverberg’s third goal of the weekend and seventh of the season.
The start of the second period was wild. Just over four minutes into the period the score went from 1-0 UConn to all tied up at 2-2. Houle had a big game on Saturday night, proving Barr right on his move of Houle to the first line. First, Houle opened the scoring for UMaine by finishing a UMaine breakout, sniping one top shelf past Hanson for his first goal of the season.
Sadly, similar to in the first game this weekend, UConn was able to respond to a UMaine equalizer by taking back the lead just two minutes later. Third-year defenseman Harrison Rees beat Ostman after a nice setup from down low by fourth-year forward Marc Gatcomb, putting UConn back up 2-1.
Houle was thriving in his first line role, and again he appeared on the scoresheet. Fifth-year forward Keenan Suthers arguably has been UMaine’s best player this season and his net drive opened up a passing lane for second-year forward John Mulera to find Houle driving the net, and Houle scored on his backhand past Hanson, tying the game back up at 2-2 just 30 seconds after UConn had scored.
The third period had a rapid pace and it was anyone’s game to win. Despite the pace, both Hanson and Ostman denied some high quality chances to keep the game level after three periods. The game needed overtime to decide a winner.
Rees struck again for UConn in overtime. Gatcomb took a shot from the top of the zone that created a juicy rebound which Rees picked up and put home for the UConn win. It was a tough end to an otherwise great night for Ostman. The final score was 3-2, in favor of the Huskies.
“That one hurt, that was a tough one,” Coach Barr said after Saturday’s loss. “That’s what we are, we didn’t deserve to win the game because we couldn’t execute for the full 65 minutes tonight.”
After eight games, UMaine is still winless and are already in a 0-4 hole in Hockey East play. The team feels almost snake-bitten, as they have gotten close to winning on multiple occasions and have now lost their last three games by one goal.
“We seem to find ways to lose, and hopefully we’ll find that first one and we’ll get a little bit of a feeling for it,” Coach Barr said looking forward. “It doesn’t come easier, every game is hard in our league.”
Houle and Suthers were UMaines’ most productive players this weekend. Suthers had four assists this weekend, two in each game. Suthers is now tied with Dawe for a team high of six points. Houle scored his first two goals of the season and was dangerous anytime he was around the puck on Saturday. Hopefully he can build on this breakout performance.
UMaine will look to get their first win at home next weekend when Merrimack comes to town for a two-game series. The games will be played on Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday at 5:00 p.m. Merrimack has a 4-6 record and most recently split a two-game series against Boston College this past weekend.