ORONO, Maine — New Hampshire hasn’t won at Maine’s Alfond Arena in nearly five years — since Jan. 8, 2000, to be exact. And on Sunday afternoon, nothing changed, as Maine skated away with a 3-0 victory in a crucial Hockey East matchup.
The ninth-ranked Black Bears halted a two-game losing skid by shutting out the eighth-ranked Wildcats. For Maine, the win against its border rival provided a much-needed boost in confidence for the rest of the season.
“I was really pleased with the team’s effort and focus, and I thought their discipline was very good,” said Maine head coach Tim Whitehead. “We moved in the right direction today, and the players were very intent on that. This will help us down the road.”
Maine sophomore right winger Brent Shepheard led his team with two goals, including the game winner. Black Bear goalie Jimmy Howard, who left the game in the second period with a knee injury, combined with freshman Matt Lundin for the shutout.
Wildcat junior netminder Jeff Pietrasiak made his 11th career start and first start against the Black Bears.
Maine grabbed the early momentum and a 1-0 lead when Shepheard scored his third goal of the season 8:56 into the first period. After stealing the puck beyond the blue line, Keenan Hopson gave it to Jon Jankus, who skated through the left side of the UNH zone. Jankus swept a pass to the right side of the crease where Shepheard snuck the puck through Pietrasiak’s five hole.
Both teams played fairly spirited hockey throughout the first period. The Black Bears managed most of the high-percentage scoring opportunities, outshooting the Wildcats 9-4.
With time winding down in the second, Howard slid across the crease to make a save on Sean Collins but tweaked his right knee in the process. He attempted to get back on his skates but crumpled to the ice. At the 15:44 mark, the injured Howard skated off the ice for the locker room.
Coming off a recent injury to his left knee, Howard wasn’t too concerned about the problems his new ailment may present.
“I’ve had problems with both my knees in the past, so I’m not really too concerned about it,” said the All-American goaltender. “I’ll be back on my game next week.”
Making his third collegiate appearance, Lundin replaced Howard.
About a minute after entering the game, Lundin showed early confidence when he dove across the crease to stop the puck from trickling over the goal line.
“After playing every game in high school, I’ve never had to come into a situation like that, especially against UNH with a one-goal lead,” said Lundin.
But his team knew he would step up.
“I was very confident in him,” said Whitehead. “He’s been getting better every week. Going into a 1-0 game against our archrivals, I was so impressed with his composure and the way he competed. He was very strong on corralling the loose pucks in the crease.”
“That was a tough situation for Lundin to go into with UNH, and he responded in a great way,” said Howard. “I’m sure the fans were worried when he came in, but he answered a lot of their questions today.”
After UNH outplayed Maine for most of the second period, Lundin’s entrance energized the crowd and the Black Bears. Both teams reverted to more physical play after Howard’s exit, with Lundin the focus of UNH’s frustration.
After making a glove save, Lundin skated around the goal with Wildcat center Justin Aikins skating closely behind. Aikins poked his stick into the back of Lundin’s knee, dropping him to the ice. The play resulted in a power play for Maine, but the Black Bears couldn’t score.
“That power play was a great swing of momentum,” said Jankus. “We didn’t score on it, but we had all the energy after that.”
UNH head coach Dick Umile felt the same shift in the game after his team outshot Maine 10-3 in the second.
“I was disappointed because I thought we played well for two periods and gave ourselves a good opportunity to win a big road game,” said Umile. “I don’t think we played well in the third period. We had chances to put the puck away, and we didn’t do that.”
Maine doubled its lead on Greg Moore’s sixth goal of the season 7:15 into the final period. After jumping on the turnover in the Maine zone, Billy Ryan left the puck for Derek Damon, who made an initial attempt on the Wildcat goaltender. Moore pounced on the loose rebound at the top of the crease and flung it into the top shelf past Pietrasiak to make it 2-0.
With a little more than two minutes remaining, Shepheard scored his second goal of the game, an empty-net tally to make the final score 3-0.
“It was nice to score two goals to help my team out, but more importantly, we got a good effort from everybody, and that’s what we need every night,” said Shepheard. “We have to win by committee, and everyone contributed in some way tonight. It was our best game of the year.”
Howard saved all 10 shots he faced and was awarded the shutout — his second of the season. Lundin also stopped 14 shots. Pietrasiak went 22 for 24 in save opportunities.
Umile said the loss won’t discourage his Wildcats in the future.
“I think we can play with everyone because I like the way we competed today,” said Umile. “It’s all about making plays, but we didn’t. We will be able to make those plays in the future though.”
Facing UNH’s high-octane power play, Whitehead was happy with his team’s performance, killing all five Wildcat advantages.
“It was key for us to shut down their power play because we know how quickly they can move the puck,” said Whitehead. “We did that, and that’s a big reason we won this game.”
With the win, Maine climbs to 6-5-0 on the season and improved to 2-2-0 in Hockey East action. New Hampshire drops to 4-2-1 overall and 1-1-0 in conference play.
Next weekend, UNH will square off with Providence in a Friday night home matchup while Maine will travel to Hockey East opponents Northeastern and Massachusetts-Lowell.