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Black Bears split the weekend

The University of Maine Black Bears hit the road this past weekend to take on two tough Hockey East opponents: Northeastern and the eleventh nationally-ranked University of Massachusetts. Northeastern’s home ice rink, Matthews Arena, has been a house of horrors for the Black Bears. Since 2012, Maine has been 0-13-2 inside Matthews arena and would need to bring their best to knock off a hot Northeastern team. The back-to-back road games in different venues challenged the Black Bears as they looked to hit their stride entering the Hockey East playoffs. The Northeastern Huskies’ first-year goalie Cameron Whitehead and Black Bear fourth-year goalie Victor Ostman started in the net on Friday evening to begin the action off for the weekend.

The teams spent the first period feeling the other team out, as neither was looking to make the first mistake. Both the Black Bears and Huskies established that they wanted to play a physical game. Northeastern had the first golden opportunity of the game when first-year forward Dylan Hryckowian buried the game’s first goal 11 minutes into the first period. The Huskies protected their home ice in the first period and took a 1-0 lead to the intermission.

The Black Bears came out firing in the second period. It wasn’t long before first-year forward Josh Nadeau tied the game up at one after a turnover by the Huskies on their defensive end. As the second period was winding down, Black Bear third-year forward Cole Hanson scored a wrist shot that gave Maine a 2-1 advantage about 17 minutes into the second period. The two teams would trade chances before Maine took their lead into the intermission.

The third period was nothing short of chaos. After matching penalties to the two teams, Huskies second-year defenseman Hunter McDonald tied the game at two with a slapshot by Ostman about three minutes into the third period. Disaster would ensue for the Black Bears when fifth-year graduate forward Ben Poisson was handed a five-minute major and an ejection for a hit to the head. The Huskies would take full advantage of the opportunity as fourth-year forward Alex Martinez, third-year forward Justin Hryckowian and second-year forward Jack Williams all cashed in on power-play goals, giving the Huskies a 5-2 lead, with all three goals coming within a span of just ninety seconds. 

The Black Bears continued to fight to the end, with Hanson scoring his second goal of the evening with under a minute to go in the game, briefly cutting the Huskies lead to 5-3 before they added an empty net goal with one second remaining for the official 6-3 win. A costly penalty was the difference on Friday night, but there was no time to sulk as the Black Bears had to turn their attention to the eleventh-ranked national team, UMass.

Maine kicked off Saturday with Albin Boija, a first-year goalie from Sweden, in the net. Boija would go head to head with another first-year goalie as Michael Hrabal got the start for UMass. Not only was this a big game for the Black Bears in terms of the standings, but there was a little extra motivation for Ben Barr, who has been coaching the team for three years, to face off with his former team. Barr signed a contract extension this past week to stay at Maine and will be the head coach through at least the 2028 season. 

It didn’t take long for the Black Bears to strike as the second-year, three-team Hockey East defender of the week, Brandon Chabrier, got the Black Bears out and in front just over a minute into the game. Maine found themselves on two separate penalty kills throughout the first period but were able to fend off the Minutemen’s attack before taking a 1-0 lead into the intermission. In the second period, scoring chances were few and far between. It was a very physical game dominated by puck control with two strong defensive units. Boija turned away third-year defenseman Scott Morrow on a rebound chance with just over three minutes to go in the second period to keep the lead at 1-0. Fourth-year forward Donovan-Villeneuve Houle gave the Black Bears a power play in the final two minutes, drawing a cross-checking penalty from third-year defenseman Ryan Ufko. Unable to capitalize on the opportunity, the lead remained 1-0 after two periods.

The third period was eerily similar to the second. A battle for puck possession was at a premium, and neither team gave an inch in their respective defensive zones. Second-year defenseman Luke Antonacci made a pair of gutsy blocks on a penalty kill halfway through the third period as the score remained 1-0. Boija made numerous saves down the stretch as the Minutemen threw more shots his way. UMass pulled Hrabal out of his net with ninety seconds to go, and the mad scramble began. The Black Bears iced the puck twice in the final minute, and the Minutemen would call their timeout with eight seconds remaining. Boija made one final save to secure the shutout win for the Black Bears, earning them three crucial points in the Hockey East standings. Maine currently sits third, fending off Providence, who are just two points behind. The Black Bears host Providence next week for a pair of games that will be pivotal to securing a top-five seed and a first-round bye for home-ice advantage in the Hockey East playoffs.

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