Durham, NH — The Maine-New Hampshire rivalry lived up to expectation for the first two duels of the season. The Black Bears and Wildcats tied to open the series in Orono on MLK Day, then UNH pulled an overtime effort on Friday night in Durham. The three-game regular season series concluded with another excellent duel on Saturday night at the Whittimore Center.
Maine quieted a sold out UNH crowd with the first two tallys of the night. Shortly after the middle period, Tim Doherty broke the ice with a cleanup goal on the doorstep. As he punched in the puck, Brendan van Riemsdyk sat for a hooking minor. Fifty-two seconds into the ensuing power play, Mitchell Fossier cleaned up the puck for his second goal of the season and put UNH in a two goal hole.
The Wildcats offered a fast response, though. Four minutes after the Fossier goal, Benton Maass found space to shoot from the blue line. He uncorked a shot and Frankie Cefalu deflected the puck through Jeremy Swayman for a 2-1 game. Seventeen seconds later, before the PA Announcer could call the scoring of the Cefalu goal, Wildcat Captain Ara Nazarian potted his third goal of the weekend to tie the game at 2-2 before the intermisison.
UNH tilted the ice in their favor for the 2nd period. They outshot Maine 13-7 but failed to crack Jeremy Swayman’s armor. The Black Bears bid their time and struck when the door opened. With 17:19 left in the frame, Eric Esposito sat for an elbowing minor. Late in the power play, Maine’s sophomore from Cross Lake, Manitoba, Brady Keeper, lasered a shot into the twine. Maine led 3-2 at the break.
Again, UNH dominated the third’s shot counter. They doubled up the Black Bears 18-9. Still, Swayman held his turf and kept Maine in front. And still, Maine’s offense capitalized on golden chances. Chase Pearson charged to finish a transition play and accidentally played the puck off his skate into the net. The officials reviewed the play but determined no distinct kicking motion and the goal held up.
UNH spent the remainder of regulation fighting back and gave the fans hope with 1:49 left. Marcus Vela won a faceoff clean to Max Gildon and the Florida Panther draft pick whipped a perfect laser through Swayman to cut the lead back. Alas, UNH got no closer. Mitchell Fossier capped a four point night with an empty netter for his second tally of the night.
Maine improves to 10-13-3 overall and 6-7-3 in Hockey East play. They sit just two points back of UNH in the Hockey East standings and are three points clear of Vermont for the final Hockey East Playoff spot.
When asked the difference between winning and losing, Maine Head Coach Red Gendron observed.
“Last night we get chances on the power play and we don’t score,” Gendron said. “Tonight we get two power plays and we get two goals. We played well enough to win last night but we didn’t; credit to UNH. We got the job done tonight. Every UNH-Maine game I’ve ever been involved in, and I’ve been involved in a few, it was hard fought from beginning to end. That’s the way it ought to be.”
The Black Bears return to Orono next weekend for a critical weekend with the reeling Providence College Friars. Puck drop is scheduled for 7 pm ET on both Friday and Saturday night at Alfond Arena.
UNH drops to 10-9-8 overall and 6-6-5 in Hockey East. They sit only one point behind the fifth-placed Boston University Terriers and Providence Friars.
“Disappointing outcome for us”, commented Wildcat Head Coach Mike Souza. “But I thought Maine played hard all weekend. They were the better team tonight, they deserved to win. I thought we played okay in spurts, I thought we showed great character in coming back after getting down early.”
Liam Blackburn’s The Wildcats travel to Burlington, VT, to face the first team out of the Hockey East playoffs, the Vermont Catamounts. Puck drops at Gutterson Fieldhouse at 7:05 pm ET both Friday and Saturday night.