ORONO, Maine — Maine came out firing the puck for the second night in a row to beat Hockey East foe Merrimack 5-0 Saturday and claim three points on the weekend.
After outshooting the Warriors 39-12 Friday in a 2-2 tie, the ninth-ranked Black Bears managed a 48-12 shot advantage on Saturday. Josh Soares had a goal and an assist and Jon Jankus had three assists to lead the Maine attack.
“It was very important to get the two points tonight after missing the chance to get another one last night,” said Maine head coach Tim Whitehead. “It was crucial to get both points, and we did. The guys followed through. And I like the fashion we did it in. We worked extremely hard from start to finish.”
Maine improved its record to 10-6-2 overall and 6-3-1 in Hockey East while Merrimack dropped to 4-10-2 and 1-8-1 in conference action.
Derek Damon drew first blood for the Black Bears 3:38 into the first period with his 10th goal of the season. Skating four-on-four, Steve Mullin sent a pass to Damon, who fired a sharp-angle one-timer from the right faceoff circle. The puck beat Warrior netminder Jim Healey low to give Maine the early 1-0 lead.
With four minutes remaining in the first, Soares doubled Maine’s lead. After initially losing the faceoff, Jankus fell to a knee but managed to gain control of the puck and poke it back to Soares, planted at the top of the right circle. Soares buried a wrister into the upper shelf to put the Black Bears up 2-0.
“Jankus did well to get the puck because he originally didn’t win it off the draw,” Soares said. “But he got it back to me, and I just took a shot, and it hit the top corner.”
The Black Bears maintained their relentless attack in the second period only to be denied several high-percentage scoring chances by Healey. The Warrior goalie made a sprawling save midway through the period, refusing a shorthanded opportunity by Greg Moore on a breakaway.
“Healey’s playing very well right now, and we felt it was important to get to the net for some second chances,” said Whitehead. “We did that tonight, but goals were still tough to come by.”
Maine was more successful in the third period, however, as it padded its lead early.
At the 5:45 mark of the final period, Mike Hamilton extended the Maine lead to 3-0. After pouncing on the rebound off a Keith Johnson shot on the right side of the crease, Hamilton jammed the puck underneath the goalie’s pads for his second goal of the season.
Soares said it was important to continue the offensive pressure.
“We kept playing like it was a 0-0 game,” he said. “We kept going at them, worked hard and didn’t sit back because if you do that, things will come back on you.”
Less than two minutes after the Hamilton tally, John Ronan made the score 4-0 on an unlikely goal. As he fell to the ice within the left faceoff circle, Ronan shot a high wrister from one skate and beat Healey above his glove-side shoulder.
After surrendering the fourth goal, Healey, who made 36 saves, was replaced by Frank McLaughlin, who stopped seven of the eight shots he faced.
Troy Barnes rounded off the scoring for the Black Bears with a shot from the point that skidded through McLaughlin’s five-hole. Barnes’ first goal of the season made the final score 5-0 with 41 seconds remaining in the game.
“We generated a lot of offense,” said Whitehead. “We got a few extra goals in the third, which was satisfying because when you have all those chances and don’t score, it can get frustrating.”
Black Bear goalie Jimmy Howard saved all 12 shots he faced for his third shutout of the season and 12th of his career. Howard said the number of shots didn’t make his job any easier in net.
“The games with few shots are so tough mentally because you don’t have anything to do,” said Howard. “Then, all of a sudden, you have two or three shots in the row. You have to be on your toes.”
Merrimack head coach Chris Serino was disappointed with his team’s effort on the defensive side of the puck.
“That was the poorest defensive game I’ve ever seen out of a team in 30 years of coaching,” said Serino. “We have to play good defense, and that will get us offense. We were so out of position on defense that when we got the puck, there was no one to pass it to. The offense will come from the defense. If we do that better, we’ll do a better job overall.”
Maine will not face another Hockey East opponent until Jan. 14 when the Black Bears visit Massachusetts. Soares reiterated the importance of the win Saturday night.
“This is a big place for us in the season,” he said. “We needed these points to move up in the Hockey East standings because we won’t have another conference game for a month, and we wanted to put ourselves in a good position for the second half of the season. These points were big for us.”
Next weekend, Merrimack will square off with Princeton for a two-game set at home, while Maine will travel to Harvard for a nonconference matchup on Saturday.