ORONO, Maine — The Maine Black Bears are admittedly a work in progress. On most nights, the roster includes a minimum of 11 first- or second-year players. While the future looks bright in Orono, the present can sometimes be a struggle.
On Friday night, the young Black Bears blew a two-goal lead in the last five minutes of regulation and were forced to settle for a 3-3 tie with Boston University.
“We’ve been making the mistakes that young teams make,” Maine forward Lucas Lawson said. “The important thing is that we’re learning from them.”
Maine carried the lessons of Friday night into its rematch with the Terriers on Saturday and skated away with a key 3-1 victory.
Niko Dimitrakos led Maine with a pair of goals, including the game winner, and Lawson added his sixth of the season as the Black Bears ran their record to 10-7-6 (5-4-4 Hockey East). The Terriers dropped to 7-11-2 (5-6-2).
Tied 1-1 near the midpoint of the third period, Maine coach Shawn Walsh sensed his team’s frustration.
“We were getting bummed out,” said Walsh. “I just told them if they wanted the win, they’d have to go get it. They weren’t going to hand it to us.”
Dimitrakos, a junior and therefore considered a grizzled veteran, responded at the 9:56 mark.
A bad Terrier line change was exploited by Maine freshman defenseman Francis Nault, who flipped a pass into the BU zone to fellow blueliner Peter Metcalf. The pass trickled past Metcalf and Terrier goalie Jason Tapp (20 saves) raced him to the loose puck. Metcalf got off a shot that was redirected into a crowd in front. Dimitrakos collected the puck and skated to his right.
“I had the goalie out of position,” said Dimitrakos. “But they had a couple of players in front of the net. I knew that if I went high, they’d glove it away. I basically went five-hole on one of their players.”
It was Dimitrakos’ sixth goal of the season and it gave the Black Bears a 2-1 lead. Shaken, but not stirred, the Terriers went right back to work.
“Once we went ahead,” said Walsh, “BU turned up the faucets.”
Their full-scale assault on Maine netminder Matt Yeats (15 saves) began immediately after the Dimitrakos goal. Carl Corazzini challenged Yeats twice from the low left circle, but each time the Maine goalie made pad saves. On the second Corazzini attempt, defenseman Pat Aufiero pounced on the rebound.
“He had me dead to rights,” said Yeats. “I just moved to the open side and threw my hands up to cover the top corner.”
The tactic worked perfectly as Aufiero’s bid hit the shaft of Yeats’ stick and deflected into the crowd.
“I thought Matt Yeats was tremendous in the last 10 minutes,” said Walsh. “That’s the type of goaltending you need.”
Recovering from the heartbreak of the previous evening, when a freak goal helped the Terriers steal a point from Maine, turned out to be no problem for Yeats.
“I just came into tonight with the attitude that I was going to have fun,” said Yeats.
The Terriers had tied the game at 10:21 of the second on a goal all too reminiscent of the previous evening.
“It was kind of like the Aufiero goal of last night,” Yeats said.
Terrier defenseman Mike Bussoli intercepted a Maine clearing attempt with the teams skating four on four. He swung a point-to-point pass to Chris Dyment, who flipped the puck into a crowd in the low slot.
“I think it hit Dan’s (Kerluke) skate,” said Yeats.
The deflection skipped over Yeats’ shoulder to knot the game at 1.
Maine had taken a first-period lead when Lawson took a Tom Reimann feed in neutral ice and turned on the jets. The sophomore forward beat the BU defense at the blue line and Lawson lined up a wrister in the slot.
“I just put my head down and fired,” said Lawson, whose shot beat Tapp high to the stick side.
Terriers coach Jack Parker said the game was a matter of “tit for tat.”
“We only played well in the first and third periods last night,” said Parker. “But we got the point. Tonight, I thought we played well the whole game and a bad bounce here and there ended up costing us.”
Dimitrakos added an empty netter with 16 seconds left to seal the deal.
“This puts us right in the hunt,” said Walsh. “We’ve only lost one of our last seven and we’re getting better as we get healthier. We’ve put ourselves in the picture now, where a good February might help us. We’ll just take it one game at a time.”