ORONO, Maine — Something had to give. The Northeastern Huskies ventured into Alfond Arena on Friday night burdened by a three-game losing streak. Maine was coming off a disheartening 2-1 overtime loss to Dartmouth last weekend. Both clubs were saddled with scoring difficulties and plagued by inconsistent play.
The Black Bears responded, playing their best game of the season. Maine employed outstanding team defense and capitalized on a four-point night by forward Niko Dimitrakos, including a pair of goals, for a 5-1 victory over the Huntington Hounds.
The win improves the Black Bears overall mark to 6-4-3, 3-1-1 in Hockey East. Northeastern drops to 5-6-1, 2-4-1 respectively.
“This was a real team effort,” said Maine head coach Shawn Walsh. “I thought every guy on our team played a really solid game tonight.” The Black Bears took an early lead at 3:19 of the first when Dan Kerluke jumped on the rebound of a Dimitrakos wrister and swept the puck past Northeastern goalie Jason Braun (25 saves).
“We talked about getting to the net,” said Kerluke. “Niko put it in front and it hit a skate. I just turned and fired in one motion.” Kerluke’s shot slipped beneath Braun’s pads for the 1-0 lead.
The game-winner came at 16:51 of the first, and proved controversial. Maine sophomore Lucas Lawson picked up a loose puck on the right wing boards, rushed the Husky zone and split the defense pair as he fired a backhander on Braun. The NU netminder stopped Lawson’s first bid, but Lawson was dragged down and the puck appeared to trickle past Braun off Lawson’s body. After a brief conference with his linesmen, referee Jim Fitzgerald allowed the goal and Maine was up, 2-0.
“Obviously, that was a big goal,” said Northeastern head coach Bruce Crowder. “But what are you gonna do? He made the call, we just have to deal with the adversity.”
Although Maine outshot the Huskies only 12-9 in the period, most of Northeastern’s attempts were from the perimeter.
The guys let me see everything,” said Maine goalie Matt Yeats, who ran his record to 5-2-1 with a 22 save effort. “I just stayed square (to the puck) and they cleared every rebound.”
With Maine on the power play early in the second, Dimitrakos gave the Black Bears some breathing room. Tom Reimann intercepted a clearing attempt at the left point and fired it on net. Dimitrakos, positioned at the edge of the crease, deflected the shot between his legs and Braun’s pads.
“I was just trying to get it on net,” said Dimitrakos. “It just happened to hit the right spot and I got lucky.”
After a Willie Levesque wrister cut the Black Bear lead to 3-1 early in the third, Maine put the game out of reach.
Breaking into the NU zone, 2 on 1, Dimitrakos took a Kerluke feed and cruised through the right circle. “Their goalie is small,” said Dimitrakos. “So I figured I’d go high.” The junior’s wrist shot beat Braun high to the glove side, bouncing off the crossbar as it went in. The goal was Dimitrakos’ fifth in four games since returning to the Black Bear lineup from a broken wrist.
UMaine forward Robert Liscak closed out the scoring, whacking home a Dimitrakos centering pass from the low slot at 6:55 of the third.
“I think Niko was looking for Francis (defenseman Nault),” Liscak said. “Francis just got a piece and it came right to me.”
To a man, the Black Bears were satisfied with a total team effort.
“We had jump tonight,” said forward Gray Shaneberger. “Everyone worked had the whole game. Maine captain A.J. Begg added that “we just played our roles. We did what we were supposed to do. Everyone got involved defensively and that limited their chances.”
Crowder concurred, stating “to their credit, they made us play bad.”
The win was especially pleasing for Walsh, who was forced to play without Peter Metcalf, Eric Turgeon and Brendan Donovan due to injuries. Additionally, the victory broke a four game winless streak against the Huskies. “With the guys we’ve got out of the lineup,” said Walsh, “this is really encouraging and exciting. We couldn’t beat that team last year.”
The Maine head coach was already looking ahead to the teams’ season finale on Sunday afternoon at Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland. “This win makes Sunday’s game important,” Walsh said. “Now we’ve got to see if we can put two and two together in our league.”