LOWELL, Mass. — By the end of the second period, frustrated Massachusetts-Lowell fans might have been wishing their team would stay on the ice for the receiving end of the Chuck-A-Puck promotion.
Maine led 5-1 after 20 minutes and 8-1 after 40, en route to a dominating 9-2 victory. Fourteen different players contributed to the scoring, led by Brett Tyler’s four points, Billy Ryan and Keenan Hopson each notched three and Brent Shepheard tacked on his first two goals of the season.
“It’s good when everybody on the team contributes,” Shepheard said. “It makes everyone feel like it’s more of a team win in the dressing room.”
Maine didn’t score until the 7:23 mark, but 11 minutes later it was a 5-1 lead and lights out for the River Hawks.
“It was a weird game,” Maine coach Tim Whitehead said. “We got a couple early ones and it just started snowballing against them. That can happen.
“But I liked how we played. We moved the puck real well. We played pretty disciplined. Special teams were good again. So it was a good win.”
Maine has certainly had Lowell’s number of late. Last year, the Black Bears won all five games, including twice in the playoffs, and now own a 10-1 record at Tsongas Arena.
“There’s no magic potion,” Whitehead said. “Sometimes that happens. We were just fortunate to get some good breaks and then it started slipping away from them.”
For Maine (9-2-0, 4-1-0 HEA), the win came five days after it absorbed its first league loss, stymied by Boston University goaltender John Curry’s 19 third-period saves. The Black Bears offense got back on track in a big way, dominating in all phases and converting seemingly at will.
“In Hockey East, every game is huge,” said senior Travis Wight, who scored his first collegiate goal in 73 games. “Especially after that loss against BU. That was a tough loss for us. We just wanted to get back in there and play a game.
“We knew in recent years we’ve had Lowell’s number, but they play us hard every time. So it was a big game especially on the road.”
The Black Bears got plenty of admiration from the opposing bench.
“I enjoyed watching Maine,” UML coach Blaise MacDonald said. “They have a very, very good team. They have so many good habits. They have terrific leadership. Skill in all areas. They play the game the way it’s supposed to be played.”
The demoralizing loss for Massachusetts-Lowell (3-6-0, 2-4-0 HEA) was a setback after recording back-to-back league wins over BU and Merrimack. The contest with Maine kicked off a sequence of seven straight league games against nationally ranked opponents New Hampshire and Vermont to go along with the Black Bears. More importantly, however, it was a game played poorly by the River Hawks.
“You don’t have to be Toe Blake to figure out that this was not a very good game for the Lowell team,” MacDonald said. “As coaches, we have to find some way to get this team going. We’ve tried many things, but it’s our responsibility to get them to play.
“Our team is physically equipped to play pretty well. It was the best ever conditioning we’ve ever had in our testing. It’s an older team that has won a lot of big games.
“But yet there are a lot of mental breakdowns. Giving up four-on-ones isn’t in the playbook.”
The game was all but over after a fateful first period in which Maine outshot the River Hawks, 19-7, and outscored them, 5-1.
The period began slowly with both teams missing sterling chances in front. Maine’s Greg Moore and Rob Bellamy failed to get significant shots off from the doorstep, matching Lowell’s Cleve Kinley’s inability to pull the trigger with Maine goalie Ben Bishop down and out.
Ironically, it would be Wight who got Maine on the scoreboard at 7:23 with his first collegiate goal in 73 games.
“It’s been a while,” Wight said. “Four years. When it went in, I didn’t celebrate right away because I didn’t expect it. I haven’t had that feeling in a long time.”
Just 39 seconds later, Shepheard made it 2-0, scoring his first goal of the season.
The Black Bear scoring continued, but from more conventional sources on the power play. Michel Leveille caught Vetri leaning to one side, perhaps to see around a screen, and threaded a shot into the resulting hole from just inside the right faceoff circle.
Minutes later, the Black Bears made Lowell pay for a too many men on the ice penalty when Josh Soares rang one in off the pipes from almost the same spot Leveille had scored from.
The River Hawks rallied ever so briefly just 10 seconds later when
freshman Mike Potacco scored his first collegiate goal, sneaking through the Maine defense for a breakaway and then putting a soft knuckleball through Bishop’s five-hole.
The rally proved short-lived, however, when Shepheard scored again, converting a pass from Bellamy to end the first period with a 5-1 lead.
At the start of the second, Lowell freshman Vinny Monaco replaced Vetri to see his first action of the season, but the onslaught continued.
Billy Ryan christened Monaco’s collegiate experience just 1:41 in, one-timing from the right post a pass from Hopson.
Eight minutes later, Lowell buried itself with a bad change while on a penalty to give up a three-on-one. Tic-tac-toe passing from Jon Jankus to Derek Damon to Greg Moore resulted in an easy goal past a defenseless Monaco.
And as if the three-on-one break weren’t bad enough, Tyler converted at 17:58 after four Maine attackers converged on a lone Lowell defenseman.
With Maine dominating 8-1, there was no drama in the third. Lowell’s Matt Walsh and Bellamy traded tallies.
Both teams return to action against New Hampshire. Maine faces the Wildcats at the Whittemore Center on Saturday while Lowell takes them on in a home-and-home series next weekend.