AMHERST, Mass. — For the second night in a row, the Maine hockey team relied on a pair of unsung snipers to skate past UMass-Amherst.
After posting two goals in Friday night’s win over the Minutemen, senior winger Dan Kerluke netted another couplet again on Saturday night, and sophomore Michael Schutte tallied a hat trick in a 5-1 Black Bears victory.
Maine moved into sole possession of fourth place after completing the weekend sweep of UMass-Amherst in front of 3,440 at the William D. Mullins Center.
“The performance this weekend reminded me of Maine teams of the past that got better as the season goes along and really step it into high gear in February,” Maine coach Shawn Walsh said. “We certainly did that this weekend. We made the game easy, and winning on the road in our league is anything but easy.”
Kerluke’s third goal of the weekend at the 14:53 mark of the opening period handed the Black Bears a 1-0 lead after the opening 20 minutes, but Maine proceeded to put the game away in the middle stanza with three goals.
A power-play goal from Schutte at 5:41 of the second period started the Black Bears assault. Then, just over 90 seconds later, the sophomore connected for his second marker of the night to pad the Maine advantage to 3-0.
The Black Bears closed out the second period scoring at the 11:05 mark, as Kerluke buried his second goal of the night. At that point, the Minutemen were clearly out of their game, and were unable to mount a serious comeback in the third period.
“I thought that we were very much out of energy and we’re a team and a program probably that needs to deal with ‘When you get behind by a couple of goals and things aren’t going right, how do you get back into sync where you can make a game out of it?’ ” UMass-Amherst coach Don Cahoon said. “That’s an issue that’s got to be dealt with in the near future because we’re just a sinking ship once we fall behind by a couple of goals.”
The teams traded goals in the third period. Schutte capped off his hat trick with a marker at 3:44 before Darcy King recorded his second goal of the weekend at 11:23, tipping in a point shot from Luke Duplessis.
Nevertheless, the Maine defensive unit enjoyed another stellar night. Goaltender Matt Yeats only had to make 17 stops, and the Black Bears improved to 13-9-6 on the year.
“We played a tremendous defensive game and that’s why we won,” Kerluke said. “Everyone bought into that mentality today and our defense created our offense. We played a great road game. We didn’t take any dumb penalties, and that’s why we won.”
Added Walsh: “This was important because it was our game in hand, and now in the big picture we’re right there, we’re right in the thick of things. … It’s really going to be an interesting race for second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth.”
Maine will now carry a three-game winning streak into next week’s league pair with UMass-Lowell, the hottest team in Hockey East over the past month. The Minutemen enjoy next weekend off before taking on Boston College for a pair on Feb. 23 and 24.
“We’re on a roll right now, and we’ve got to keep it on a roll,” Kerluke said. “The tradition of Maine hockey is ‘Here we come before the playoffs.’ We’re doing that again this year and we’ve got to keep it up. If things keep going well, we’ll be a threat in the tournament.”