ORONO, Maine — Friday night’s game at the Alfond Arena began by living up to its billing. The game between Maine and UMass-Lowell pitted two of the hottest teams in Hockey East against one another. For the first 15 minutes of action, each took measure of the other in what was shaping up to be a conservative, defensive struggle.
That came to a screeching halt as the Black Bears scored three times in the final six minutes of the opening period and never looked back, skating away with a 6-2 victory.
Maine, winners of four straight, improved to 14-9-6, 9-6-4 in Hockey East. The Riverhawks dropped to 15-12-3 and 8-9-3.
“I’m having trouble believing how good we’re getting,” said Maine coach Shawn Walsh. “This was the best complete effort we’ve had all season.”
Martin Kariya unshackled the scoreless tie at 14:45 of the first with the Black Bears enjoying a two-man advantage. Kariya rapped a deflected pass from Niko Dimitrakos past Lowell netminder Jimi St. John (33 saves).
“I had an open net,” said Kariya, “[St. John] had committed to the pass and it deflected right to me.”
Maine went up, 2-0, on a bizarre play three minutes later. Maine dumped the puck to the backboards behind the Lowell net, and as a group of players fought to gain possession, Black Bear forward Michael Schutte somehow deflected the puck over the net. St. John never saw the puck and it bounced off his back and into the goal.
“We got some good bounces tonight,” said Maine defenseman Doug Janik.
Riverhawk senior Brad Rooney cut the lead in half a minute later when Black Bear defenseman A.J. Begg turned the puck over in his own zone.
Rooney skated in alone on Maine goalie Matt Yeats (12 saves) and stuffed the puck in the short side.
That set up the game’s turning point.
Black Bear Chris Heisten won the ensuing faceoff to Dimitrakos.
“The faceoff was a shock play,” said Dimitrakos. “I was in a race with their defense and beat them to the puck. I had a lane, but pulled the puck back through their defender’s stick and tried a wrister.”
Dimitrakos’ wrister beat St. John high to the glove side. It was the junior’s eighth goal of the season and proved to be the game winner.
Lowell made things interesting when Ed McGrane notched a power-play goal at the 1:27 mark of the second and cut the lead to 3-2. But over the next two minutes, Maine put up two more goals to lead 5-2.
The first came on the power play when Maine freshman Francis Nault found Robert Liscak alone to St. Johns right.
“They gave me a lane,” said Nault. “Robert was the only guy over there.”
Nault’s tape-to-tape feed was redirected by Liscak for his sixth goal of the season.
A minute later, the Riverhawks made a critical mistake and Lawson put the game out of reach.
“We caught them in a bad [line] change,” said Lawson. “I was at their blue line by myself and Doug [Janik] found me. I just skated in tight, and went high.”
Lawson’s backhander beat St. John above the glove for a 5-2 Black Bear lead.
As impressive as the Black Bears’ offensive effort was, their defense was just as noteworthy.
“The forwards did a great job of shutting down people on the backcheck,” said Janik. “We knew we couldn’t give a team like this many chances.”
Maine limited Lowell to only 14 shots on the evening and just three over the final 20 minutes.
“They played a great game both ways,” said Riverhawks coach Tim Whitehead. “They just outworked us.”