ORONO, Maine — Coming into Friday night’s game at Alfond Arena, the Maine Black Bears and Merrimack Warriors seemed to be headed in opposite directions. Maine had trouble putting the puck in the net last weekend, only garnering one point out of a weekend set at Northeastern, while Merrimack was riding a three-game unbeaten streak into the game.
The roles reversed on the ice as the Black Bear offense came to life again thanks to Maine’s checking line of Robert Liscak, Gray Shaneberger, and Todd Jackson. The trio combined for nine points on the night as Maine took a 5-1 win from Merrimack. The win improved Maine to 12-7-4, 6-3-2 in Hockey East, while Merrimack dropped to 8-13-2, 3-8-2 in Hockey East.
“They were our best line tonight,” said Maine interim head coach Tim Whitehead. “They drove the net, and they kept it simple. That resulted in goals. And they played great defense tonight as well.”
“We all fell good about ourselves from the first shift,” Shaneberger said. “We scored on the first shot of our first shift. We were finishing plays, and the bounces were going our way.”
That first goal was Shaneberger’s. It came only 40 seconds into the game.
He tried to center the puck from the left of the net, but it hit a Merrimack skate in front and went past a sprawled Joe Exter, and into an open net.
“I saw Jackson coming down the far side,” said Shaneberger of his fourth of the year. “I tried putting it through, but fortunately, it took a bounce off of someone and found the back of the net.
“I’ll take ‘em. I don’t get too many of those,” he said.
Maine’s second goal also deflected off a Merrimack defenseman, specifically a stick.
Jackson took a pass from Liscak and broke in down the left side. He took a shot from the near the left faceoff dot that hit a Merrimack player’s stick and popped in the air. The deflection found its way over Exter’s shoulder and into the net at 4:50.
Merrimack looked like it would get some momentum back after Tim Foster cut the lead to one at 10:26. His slapper from the top of the left circle beat Mike Morrison to the stick side. Morrison got a piece, but it snuck between the post and his pad.
That momentum was snatched right back just 34 seconds later as Jackson, Shaneberger, and Liscak hooked up again.
Jackson played the puck to Shaneberger, who moved behind the net from the left wing. As he was checked into the boards, he threw a perfect pass out front, finding Liscak cutting to the net. He held for a second and then beat Exter from the doorstep to make it 3-1 Maine.
“I was on the defensive side, but as soon as I saw him with the puck, I went to the net,” Liscak said. “I beat my man to the net, and Gray put it right on my tape.”
“We spotted them two goals in the first four minutes, got one back, and they get one the next shift,” Merrimack interim head coach Mike Doneghey said. “You can’t get behind 2-0 on the road early, let alone 1-0 only 40 seconds into the game and expect to win.”
Minutes later, Merrimack had an opportunity to get back into with a seven-minute power play after Prestin Ryan was called for a slashing minor and cross-checking major on the same play at 13:34. Maine killed off the penalty, only allowing three shots on net.
“We did a good job killing that penalty, and it’s a good thing we did, because we could have gotten in a hole,” Whitehead said.
Whitehead benched Ryan for the rest of the game, but said that he has decided to let Ryan play Saturday.
“Discipline needs to come from everybody on the team,” Whitehead said. “We’re not giving up on Prestin. He’s got to improve in that area, and I’m sure that he will in the long term.”
After killing that power play, Maine got a quick one. Martin Kariya scored his tenth of the year on a dribbler that rolled through traffic and under Exter at 1:47 of the second.
Liscak scored his second of the night and tenth on the season at 5:53 from Shaneberger and Jackson.
At that point, Exter was pulled in favor of Jason Wolfe, who made 16 saves the rest of the way without surrendering a goal.
Exter stopped nine in the loss, and is 6-13-2 this season. Morrison stopped 16, while giving up one in two periods of action, getting his ninth win of the season. Matt Yeats stopped eight shots in the third period without giving up a goal.
Doneghey says that the Warriors played better in the last 32 minutes of the game, but need to put it together for Saturday.
“We didn’t play with a good road mentality,” he said. “It was 0-0 in those last 32 minutes, but that doesn’t make a hockey game, especially against the No. 11 team in the country.
“We need to do better backchecking. We worked hard, but when they pulled up, we skated past them, and let them to get the net easily.”
Liscak feels his line is starting to play well because they are cycling the puck better.
“We’re keeping the puck by the boards, setting some picks, and finding the open guy.”
He also said that the focus now is firmly on Saturday’s rematch.
“It was a good win, but we can’t get too cocky,” he said. “We need to come with the same focus as tonight.”
The rematch is at Alfond Arena with a 7:00 p.m. faceoff.