ORONO, Maine — Coming into the season, the University of Maine knew that its success would be directly proportional to how quickly its first- and second-year players tackled the collegiate learning curve. Friday night at Alfond Arena, those players gave a capacity crowd a progress check.
Black Bear forwards Martin Kariya and Brendan Donovan each scored a goal and an assist and sophomore forwards Chris Heisten and Lucas Lawson added a pair of assists as Maine downed Merrimack, 6-2.
Of Maine’s 19 points on the evening, freshmen or sophomores scored 13.
“Brendan Donovan was a key guy for us,” said Maine head coach Shawn Walsh. “He really jumpstarted that Kariya line. They’d been playing well, but they haven’t been scoring.”
Donovan was thought to be suffering from a bruised kidney and was only cleared to play two hours before game time. The freshman notched his first collegiate goal at the 5:54 mark of the third period to give Maine a commanding 4-1 lead.
“It was a great play by Matthias (Trattnig),” said Donovan. “Marty got the puck to him in the slot and his first shot was blocked. He got to the rebound and flipped it to me. I just redirected it.”
The Warriors refused to fold, however, and cut the lead to one when defenseman Jeff State intercepted a Maine clearing attempt and slapped home his first of the year at 12:11 of the third.
But a costly penalty by freshman Tony Johnson sealed Merrimack’s fate.
Johnson was whistled for a five-minute major by referee Tim Benedetto for hitting from behind with just under seven minutes left. Maine took advantage, scoring twice on the extended power play to put the game away.
The first goal came 42 seconds into the power play when sophomore defenseman Michael Schutte one-timed a Doug Janik cross-ice feed, beating Warrior netminder Joe Exter above the shoulder.
Two minutes later, Trattnig whacked in a Lawson feed from behind the goal line for his third goal of the season.
“You can’t take a penalty like that,” said Warrior head coach Chris Serino. “Especially on the road. You just can’t keep giving a team like this good chances, they’ll hurt you.”
The Black Bears jumped on top early when Kariya backhanded a Francis Nault rebound over Warrior starting goalie Tom Welby’s glove. Donovan, who made a nice play to keep the puck in the zone, set up the score. Maine went up, 2-0, when defenseman Peter Metcalf corralled a Robert Liscak tip in front and swept the puck past Welby.
“We wanted to take the play to them early,” said Maine captain A.J. Begg, whose physical play in the first period set the tone for the Black Bears. “Playing physical was something we talked about. It doesn’t matter who we play, we need to show them we can win those battles.”
Maine added another goal at 7:15 of the second when freshman Todd Jackson potted his second of the season. Jackson took a Dan Kerluke pass from the right-wing boards and deked Johnson, then skated into the slot. His snapshot beat Welby high to the glove side.
Serino then lifted Welby in favor of Exter and the Warriors began to turn things around.
Merrimack forward Vince Clevenger cut the Maine lead to 3-1 with just over three minutes remaining in the period. The goal seemed to ignite the Warriors, who kept the play in the Maine end as the period came to a close. With just over a minute remaining, Merrimack came up empty on a golden opportunity.
Warrior forward Ryan Kiley tipped a clearing attempt back into the Maine zone. John Pyliotis and Maine goalie Matt Yeats (20 saves) raced after the loose puck with Pyliotis beating the Black Bear netminder to it. Yeats went down in the high slot and Pyliotis’ wrister at the wide-open cage went high and wide.
“That was the critical play,” said Serino. “We score there and it’s a one-goal game. Who knows what might have happened?”
Yeats, despite the near-mishap, had played well throughout the second period. His was especially sharp during a Warrior power play, stopping six shots and making two spectacular saves in tandem on an Anthony Aquino slapper and a Clevenger rebound attempt.
“That power play kind of got me going,” said Yeats. “They didn’t get many Grade-A’s in the first period, but they got about 10 in the second. I just tried to stay focused.”
Noted Heisten, “We played back on our heels in the second period. Coach just told us between periods to keep our feet moving and we’d be okay.”
The sophomore’s two assists give him seven points on the season, good for the team lead. Heisten, who started slow, said that attitude makes the difference.
“I just needed to get a chip off my shoulder,” he said. “I came in a little cocky. Now I’m going back to basics, getting my nose dirty and things are a lot easier.”
Said Walsh, “There’s not many four-goal games in Hockey East. We couldn’t beat that team last year by four goals, and they’re improved. This was a good win.”
Both teams now turn their attention to UMass-Lowell. Merrimack returns home to face the River Hawks on Sunday. Maine will travel to Lowell for a Friday contest.