ESTERO, Fla. — Maine’s Francis Nault, a rookie defender filling in on the right wing, scored the game-winning goal and registered an assist as the Black Bears beat the Clarkson Golden Knights 4-2 in the inaugural game of the Everblades College Classic.
“He played very well,” said Maine head coach Shawn Walsh. “He scored a really nice goal.”
The line of Nault, Robert Liscak and Kevin Clauson had a hand in two of Maine’s three goals prior to Dan Kerluke’s empty-netter.
“I thought Liscak was the key guy. He was on for all three goals, he scored our second goal, he made that great pass from behind the net for the third one.”
Clarkson’s Mike Nagai opened the scoring at 4:45 in the first, a puck that Black Bear netminder Matt Yeats thought he had until Nagai poked it behind Yeats for the 1-0 lead.
Martin Kariya tied it up for Maine on the power-play at 15:58, picking up Niko Dimitrakos’ rebound, and the first period ended knotted 1-1.
Liscak’s second-period goal from Clauson and Nault gave Maine its first lead, and Nault made it 3-1 at 9:04 in the third.
“Once we got up three-one, I felt good,” said Walsh, “but then we gave up a silly faceoff goal and they kept working, but we played pretty well the last four minutes, and they didn’t get as much in the last three or four minutes.”
The silly goal was Kevin O’Flaherty’s pickup of his own rebound at 10:17 in the third to bring Clarkson to within one again. The Knights pressured hard for most of the remainder of the third, but gave up the empty-net goal at 19:26.
Afterward, both head coaches seemed underwhelmed by the play of their respective teams and the quality of ice in TECO Arena.
“I thought we’d get better as a team as play went on, and we did, but we had to weather their forecheck,” said Walsh. “We just couldn’t make passes out there. The isn’t very good. It’s really warm out [and] there were five team practices out there today.”
Clarkson head coach Mike Morris agreed that conditions were less than ideal. “It’s similar to what we face in the NCAA tournament. There’s a lot of activity on the ice so it doesn’t have time to set up. I know the Everblades skated before us, so it was pretty wet out there. Obviously the puck didn’t fly real well.
“It’s really similar to what we face…in pro buildings. With all those bodies, it makes for a warm atmosphere. It’s a good eye-opener for our guys, what it’s like playing pro hockey — if they ever get there.”
Morris was quick to point out, however, that the ice wasn’t the overriding influence on the outcome of the game.
“I just don’t think we got the complete effort that we needed. As a young team, we’re going to have to find ways to win instead of finding ways to end up on the wrong end of things.
“We had three golden opportunities to score, and came up empty handed, but the effort in the third period doesn’t match the outcome, because we never let up until they got that one goal on a miscue from our defensive coverage.
“They made the most of their chances, and they came up with the stops when they needed them.”
Yeats and Clarkson’s Karl Mattson had 27 saves each. Clarkson was 0-for-3 on the power play, while Maine went 1-for-4.
With the win, Maine (8-6-4, 4-3-2 HE) advances to the tournament championship game vs. Cornell Thursday. Clarkson (4-5-3, 1-2-2 ECAC) will face Ohio State in the earlier consolation game.