LOWELL, Mass. — Niko Dimitrakos’ second goal of the night — on a two-man power play midway through the third period — gave Maine a two-goal lead and propelled the Black Bears to a 4-1 victory over UMass-Lowell Saturday night.
After a Josh Allison hooking penalty, UMass-Lowell coach Blaise MacDonald was called for a bench minor which provided Maine the five-on-three advantage, leading to the power-play goal.
MacDonald apologized to his team directly after the game. MacDonald followed referee Conrad Hache off the ice at the end of the game but, he said, never got an explanation on the call.
“I lost the game for them tonight,” said MacDonald. When asked what the penalty was for, MacDonald responded, “You would have to ask our professional referee about the call.”
“I told the team in the locker room that my bellowing voice gets the best of me. I apologized for the lack of discipline. I’m emotional and it sometimes gets the best of me. Just ask me wife, my kids,” said MacDonald.
Maine improved to 6-0 all-time at the Tsongas Arena. The Black Bears are the only Hockey East team never to have lost at the four-year-old arena.
The win moves Maine (15-7-4, 9-3-2 HEA) into second place in the Hockey East, two points behind New Hampshire. Lowell (16-7-1, 8-6-1 HEA) remains in fourth place, one point ahead of Northeastern, which lost to UMass-Amherst 4-3 in overtime.
Lowell came out the locker room on a mission, controlling the play for the majority of the first period and throwing 16 shots on Maine goalie Mike Morrison, who was equal to the task. The Maine netminder stoned Peter Hay and Kevin Kotyluk, each of whom had chances right in front of the net.
“I didn’t expect 16 shots in the first,” said Morrison of his busy start. “Some of them hit me and I came up with a couple.”
Maine, as it has all season, jumped out to an early lead. Robert Liscak stole a clearing pass and blasted a shot past Lowell goalie Cam McCormick. It was the 30th consecutive game that Maine led or was tied after the first 20 minutes of play.
McCormick admitted after the game that he didn’t see the shot and was screened by his defenseman.
Lowell pulled even on the power play early in the second period. Morrison stopped Chris Gustafson’s blast from the point but Andres Strome stuffed home the rebound in traffic to tie the game at one. It was his tenth goal of the season, good for second on the River Hawks.
Maine regained the lead late in the second just after having the man advantage. Peter Metcalf drove the zone from the left slot, firing a wrist shot on net. McCormick made the initial save, but Dimitrakos was camped out in front of the net to bang home the rebound.
“Metcalf shot low and I whacked at it in front,” said Dimitrakos of the eventual game-winner. “These points are huge for us and to get New Hampshire thinking about us.”
Maine shut Lowell down in the third, holding the River Hawks to only three shots in the last period after yielding 23 through the first. At 10:43 of the third, Dimitrakos’ five-on-three goal put Maine firmly in control, and Lucas Lawson added the final goal into an empty net with only 20 seconds left.
“I thought it was a good game, two nights in a row,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “The final score was deceiving. We played smart and within our game plan.”
Whitehead was able to sweep the season series against his old team, which he said “feels pretty good.”
McCormick finished the night with 27 saves, 23 of them coming over the final 40 minutes of play.
MacDonald had only high praise for his weekend opponent. “I wouldn’t be surprised if that team is playing for the national championship this year,” he said.
Lowell will continue its homestand Tuesday night in a nonconference matchup with Brown. Maine will return home next weekend for a showdown with first-place New Hampshire.