LOWELL, Mass. — They kept clawing their way back and it finally paid off.
After rallying from one-goal deficits four times, the Maine Black Bears took their first lead of the game at 13:09 of the third period and closed out a 5-4 win over Massachusetts-Lowell.
Coming on the heels of a 4-2 loss to Northeastern, Maine (7-6-0, 3-3-0 HEA) avoided what would have been a wasted weekend, a sub-.500 record and losses in four of its last five games.
“We had to fight hard for that one,” Maine coach Tim Whitehead said. “That was a real big win for us. That’s a real good team we played.
“They had some real timely goals. The end of the first and the end of the second, those were tough ones. It was a good comeback for us especially because of the timing of those goals to give them the lead again.”
Derek Damon scored twice, including the game-winner on a fluky carom off the back boards of a Greg Moore shot that left Damon with a wide open net.
“We were struggling, especially after last night’s loss,” Damon said. “We needed to come out and really send a message that this team is for real and is going to do some damage this year.”
Maine forward Ben Murphy suffered a first-degree (least severe) sprain of the medial collateral ligament of a knee. The length of time he will be sidelined is unknown.
For Lowell (4-3-0, 0-3-0 HEA), the loss ended a three-game winning streak while it left the River Hawks still in search of their first league win.
“I liked the first 40 minutes of the game,” UML coach Blaise MacDonald said. “I’d like to think that’s the type of hockey club that we have. We showed a lot of determination and poise. We played extremely well in the danger zones.
“And then for some reason — and this seems to be a trend — we got away from our game, which had been successful for the first 40 minutes, and became a different team.
“Maine is a team that is seasoned, has played a lot of big games and they clearly take advantage of their opportunities.”
Jason Tejchma led the Lowell offense with two goals, both in the first period.
Each team had its moments in a first period highlighted by five total goals scored in see-saw fashion. Lowell got on the board first at 3:31 on Andrew Martin’s fourth goal of the year. Maine’s John Ronan answered that goal with one of his own two minutes later.
At 8:30, the River Hawks took the lead back again on Tejchma’s first goal of the night, one that chased freshman Matt Lundin from the Maine nets in favor of Jimmy Howard. Lundin’s only previous start had been a 6-2 win over Niagara; in his 8:30 in this game, he finished with four saves on six shots.
The Black Bears once again evened the score at 16:15 on a Wes Clark shot through traffic. Lowell goaltender Peter Vetri appeared not to have seen it. The goal was the first of Clark’s collegiate career, coming in his second game.
Tejchma and Martin, the first two Lowell goalscorers, collaborated on a third to make it 3-2 at 17:52 after a good stretch of cycling the puck. Martin threaded a pass through traffic from the right boards to Tejchma in front and the sophomore proved that he could bury it past not just a freshman goaltender, but also Howard, the All-American.
Following a first period in which only two penalties were whistled, a rarity this year, the two teams swapped power-play goals in the second to maintain the see-saw scoring pattern.
The Black Bears tied it at 10:53 on a Damon shot from the point which once again Vetri appeared to have been screened on by the traffic in front of him.
Lowell, however, again seized the lead, matching Maine’s power play goal with one of its own at 17:14. Cleve Kinley served as the catalyst, winding up for a slapshot only to instead move the puck to Danny O’Brien who was along the left goal line. O’Brien cut across the goalmouth and stuffed the puck behind Howard.
The third period continued more of the same: another see-saw score on another power-play goal. The Black Bears worked the puck around until they got it to Mike Hamilton, inside the right faceoff circle. From there, Hamilton moved it to Tim Maxwell in the slot, where he put it past Vetri. The goal was Maxwell’s first in his collegiate career.
Referee Tim Benedetto was injured at the 8:22 mark in a collision with a Maine player. After a stoppage of several minutes, he was assisted off the ice by linesmen Chris Federico and Chris Millea, who acted as co-referees in Benedetto’s absence.
The Black Bears took their first lead on Damon’s ninth goal of the season. Moore fired a shot from the right wing and it caromed off the back boards to Damon in the left faceoff circle. With Vetri unable to scramble back into position in time, Damon put the puck into the open near side for the game-winner.
Penalties at 15:13 and 18:35 hamstrung Lowell’s comeback attempt and despite pulling the goaltender with a minute remaining, the River Hawks could not score the equalizer.