DURHAM, N.H. — Playing one of Hockey East’s beasts for the second straight night, the power play and special teams once again proved to be the deciding factor in New Hampshire’s favor, as the No. 12 Wildcats defeated No. 4 Maine, 4-2, at the Whittemore center in front of a raucous crowd.
UNH recorded two power-play goals as well as a shorthanded tally. Coming off Friday night’s 3-2 victory at Boston University, in which all three of the Wildcat goals were scored with the man advantage, New Hampshire finished the weekend going 5-for-12 on the power play.
With the victory, New Hampshire improved to 6-3-1 (5-1-0 Hockey East). Maine dropped to 9-3-0 (4-2-0).
The winning goal came off the stick of junior Jacob Micflikier, who took a picture-perfect pass from classmate Brett Hemingway with his team on the power play, sending the puck past the 6’7″ frame of Maine freshman netminder Ben Bishop.
“There were a lot of swings of momentum in this game,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “I think that a couple of penalties that we took allowed them to take the momentum.”
Maine showed that it could also be deadly on the power play.
Just 2:39 into the game, with UNH’s Craig Switzer off for tripping, Black Bear sophomore forward Keenan Hopson’s shot from the UNH blue line was tipped by Maine captain Greg Moore past sophomore goaltender Kevin Regan. After New Hampshire’s Daniel Winnik tied the game at 1-1 less than two minutes later on the power play, Maine regained the lead when Michel Leveille scored off a rebound with UNH freshman defenseman Joe Charlebois in the sin bin for interference.
It looked as though UNH was going to go into the dressing room down 2-1 after one period. But the Wildcats caught a break when a seemingly harmless shot from the left dot somehow eluded an unscreened Bishop, giving Brad Flaishans his first goal of the season, and tying the game.
A contact-to-the-head call against Leveille at the end of the first period proved costly for the Black Bears, as Micflikier scored the eventual game-winner just 49 seconds into the middle frame. Micflikier was a bee in the Black Bears’ bonnet all night long.
A key point in the game came at the 4:16 mark of the second period, when UNH was whistled for having too many men on the ice, giving the Black Bears a two-man advantage. The Wildcats were able to stem the tide, as Bangor, Maine’s Derek Damon hit the post after UNH got one man back. That would be as close as the Black Bears would come, much to the delight of the sell-out crowd.
“The crowd was amazing tonight,” said UNH coach Dick Umile. “It was a great atmosphere. This team has a great work ethic. It feeds off one another.
“It was a fabulous weekend of hockey. The guys capped it off with a great win tonight. I was really pleased with what the guys accomplished against two really good teams.”
Some hard work and hustle by sophomore Mike Radja of UNH forced a Maine penalty at 12:04 of the second period. While Maine shut down that UNH power play, Radja would again make some noise, and this time it resulted in a goal.
With defenseman Chris Murray off for elbowing, junior Josh Ciocoo, another thorn in Maine’s side all night, took the puck off of a turnover and raced in on a partial breakaway. Bishop made the initial save, but Radja followed up the play and banged home the rebound for a short-handed goal.
“We got careless. We stayed out there a little too long, and that led to a great play by them and a great short-handed goal,” said Whitehead.
The third period was where Regan was at his best. He stopped bids by Keith Johnson and Rob Bellamy right on the doorstep early on. Later, it looked like Bellamy had beaten Regan five-hole, but the puck remained between Regan’s pads.
With 5:46 left in regulation, Regan stoned Josh Soares, again at point-blank range.
Maine pulled its goaltender with about 2 minutes left, but to no avail.
“I think that we seized the momentum in the third period, but we really needed that third goal,” said Whitehead. “Regan was exceptional. I thought he was great. He was fantastic in the third (period).”
“I felt better as the game went along. The “D” got better and tighter in front of me,” added Regan.
The UNH players believe that through the two victories over the weekend, a statement was made.
“I thought we really came together as a team this weekend,” said senior captain Brian Yandle. “We absolutely made a statement this weekend, that we’re going to be one of the best teams in the east.”
Maine hosts the USA Under-18 team on Saturday in an exhibition, while New Hampshire hosts the University of Massachusetts-Lowell on Friday. Both games are at 7 pm.