ORONO, Maine — Black Bears Maul Minutemen
Ronan, Shields Score Two Each
By Jeff Mannix
Friday’s game between the UMass-Amherst Minutemen and the Maine Black Bears at Alfond Arena was in doubt, but not for very long.
After John Ronan’s tap-in goal for Maine at 6:14 of the first period was equalized by an opportunistic UMass goal 16 seconds later, the game went back-and-forth, with Maine getting a few more chances.
That was until Peter Metcalf intercepted a clearing attempt at the Amherst blue line. He immediately unloaded on a slap shot that beat Amherst goalie Tim Warner five-hole low to give Maine a 2-1 lead at 14:05. It was Metcalf’s sixth of the season.
After that, it was all Maine (18-9-6, 12-5-4 HEA) as it went on to an easy 7-1 win.
“We were thoroughly beaten on the scoreboard,” UMass-Amherst coach Don Cahoon said after the game. “There’s a difference in our teams, for sure. It wasn’t a result of our guys not coming to play, we competed from the drop of the puck right through to the end. But we made some critical mistakes and didn’t sustain offense.”
“These are dangerous games,” Maine interim head coach Tim Whitehead said. “[UMass-Amherst] is desperate for points. But we have goals that we want to accomplish, too, and one of those is home ice [for the Hockey East Quarterfinals]. So the game was important to us.”
Maine’s win coupled with UMass-Lowell’s 3-0 loss at New Hampshire means that Maine has become the third Hockey East team to secure home ice advantage for the quarterfinals. Maine has never lost a Hockey East quarterfinal game at Alfond Arena.
Maine got production out of some spots where it has been lacking recently. Last weekend, Whitehead moved forward Michael Schutte back to defense in part to allow the freshman line of Paul Falco, Ben Murphy and John Ronan to stay together.
Despite being a grinding line, the combo had a combined total of 11 points for the season, most of which came from Murphy while he saw time on the second line due to injuries. They exploded for seven points Friday against Amherst (8-21-2, 3-16-2), with Ronan scoring two goals and adding an assist, Murphy with a goal and an assist, and Falco with two helpers.
“They’ve continued to work hard,” Whitehead said, “and when you do that, you’re going to keep getting chances consistently. Eventually its going to go in for you.”
“We’ve been working hard, but we haven’t finished,” said Ronan. “We got the bounces today. It’s great.”
Ronan second goal was Maine’s seventh of the night on a slap shot that beat Mike Johnson, who replaced Warner to start the third, high to his stick side at 18:44 of the third period. The goals were Ronan’s second and third of the season. He scored in his college debut Oct. 12 against Bowling Green at Alfond Arena, but a shoulder separation suffered the next night against St. Cloud kept him out of the lineup for a month and a half. He’s been struggling to get his touch back, until tonight.
“It’s been a long time,” Ronan said. “I’ve been getting shots but none of them were going in until tonight.”
“We worked hard and we got the bounces,” said Murphy, who scored Maine’s fourth goal of the evening at 9:45 of the second, his fourth of the year. “It’s what we try to do every night. We just come out and work hard every shift. We’re obviously not a scoring line, we just try to play good two-way hockey.”
Maine also got goals from one of its snipers who had long been dormant.
Colin Shields had not scored a goal since he put up two against Merrimack at Alfond on Jan. 18. He put up two in Friday’s game, Maine’s third on the tip of a Francis Nault shot at 18:51 of the first, and then the sixth at 5:41 of the third on a breakaway. He now has 22 for the year, which leads the team. Sixteen of the goals have come at Alfond.
“I thought he played hard tonight,” Whitehead said. “He played very aggressively, with and without the puck. He stayed in front of the net, and he hussled back on defense.”
“I’ve been getting a lot of chances, especially last weekend at Providence,” Shields said. “I was playing solid, but none of them were going in. Some guys made some nice plays for me, and I finished tonight.”
Maine also got a goal from Lucas Lawson, his tenth of the year, at 14:39 of the second to give them a 5-1 advantage.
Amherst defenseman Samuli Jalkanen said that miscues cost the Minutemen the game.
“We don’t play smart. We make stupid mistakes, and the other teams score,” he said. “We play hard, but some nights, it’s not enough. We’re not disciplined enough, and we’re in our end a lot, and that puts us in trouble.”
The loss adds a lot of pressure to tomorrow’s rematch. UMass needs to make up four points to climb out of last place and into the final league playoff spot. Cahoon says the Minutemen need to limit the Black Bears’ offensive chances.
“We’ll have to neutralize them better than we have so far. We’ve played them twice and gotten beaten pretty handily both times. We need to find a way to reduce the exposures of our goalies. We need to capitalize on our chances as well.”
Jalkanen says the team needs to be smart.
“We need to simplify our game and play smarter. I think it’s possible that we can win tomorrow,” Jalkanen said, “just look at what Belarus did to Sweden. Anything is possible.”
Shields says the Black Bears will savor the win, but be ready for tomorrow.
“We haven’t scored a lot of goals in a few weekends,” Shields said. “We’ve been struggling with our offense, but we would be just as happy winning 2-1 instead of 7-1. But the weekend’s not complete. We’ll be looking forward to tomorrow for sure.”
The two teams face off again at 7 p.m. on Saturday at Alfond Arena.