ORONO, Me. — In the first month of the season, no team has held on to the No. 1 ranking in the poll longer than a week. On Thursday, Maine took its first step toward breaking that trend with a methodical 6-2 win over Merrimack in front of 5,501 fans at Alfond Arena Thursday night.
“It’s always good to start the conference schedule with a win,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “This is the fourth of four big tests to open the season, and so far, so good.”
The win gives Maine its first 6-0 start ever, and also its first win of the season in Hockey East play. The Black Bears will be tested again on Saturday when they host No. 7 Boston University.
“This place is going to be buzzing that night,” said Maine captain Todd Jackson. “They are one of our biggest rivals.”
On Thursday Jackson provided two goals for Maine, one of them shorthanded to give him seven goals on the season, four of which have come with a Black Bear in the penalty box, and three of which have been game-winners. Greg Moore also chipped in two goals, while John Ronan and Colin Shields each added one.
Ronan put Maine up 1-0 early in the game with a flip-backhander after two consecutive saves by Merrimack goaltender Casey Guenther. Freshman Mike Lundin released a shot from the left point that hit Guenther in the chest. Mike Hamilton took a swipe at it and he too hit Guenther in pads. Ronan swooped in from the left to push the backhander past the prone goaltender.
“I just picked up the loose change,” said Ronan. “The puck deflected off of the pads and right to me.”
Merrimack gave its fans hope five minutes later when Marco Rosa stuffed a goal past a slow-to-react Jimmy Howard to knot the score at one.
“I felt it hit my stick and went to cover it,” said Howard. “Rosa just beat me to it.”
Maine, which held a 17-6 advantage on the shot board in the first period, continued to pepper Guenther, and Moore eventually staked the Black Bears back out to a one-goal lead.
Derek Damon and Jackson exchanged passed in the right corner, and Jackson skated behind the net. He flipped a backhander high into the low slot. Moore, while shoving a defender with one arm, caught the puck, set it down into his skates and kicked it to his stick. One stride later, Moore shoved the puck past Guenther for the 2-1 lead.
“I caught it after it hit a defenseman’s stick,” said Moore. “I was holding off the defenseman with one arm and I caught it in mid-air.”
Jackson added his fourth shorthanded goal of the year with 39 seconds left in the first to put Maine up 3-1, converting a long pass from Damon on a low wrist shot to the short side.
Maine upped the lead to 4-1 late in a secind period filled with chippy play on a slapshot from the left point by Shields.
Michel Leveille won the faceoff back to Shields, who fired the puck through a sea of players, hitting the padding in the back of the net.
At 12:26 of the period, two Maine players, Moore and Prestin Ryan and two Merrimack players, Jeremy Wilson and Nick Pomponio received four minute double minors for roughing after Wilson charged at Ryan and sent him flying into the boards. Wilson was assessed an extra minor for boarding.
Merrimack drew to 4-2 at 10:51 of the third when Rosa picked up his second of the game, again on a Howard miscue.
“I went behind the net to get it,” said Howard, “and I slipped.”
Rosa took the pass in front of a wide open net from Matt Johnson for the easy goal.
Merrimack (2-3-1, 1-2-1 Hockey East) next plays on Saturday at home against RPI, while Maine (6-0-0, 1-0-0) will skate with Boston University, also on Saturday.