ORONO, Maine — Rest easy Maine faithful. The Black Bears are back.
On Saturday, after nearly a month and half of struggles, Maine pieced together one of their most complete games of the year pounding Northeastern 5-2.
Before a rambunctious Alfond Arena crowd, the Black Bears snapped a two-game home losing streak and picked up their fifth Hockey East victory. Anchored by the elite play of standouts Greg Moore and Michel Leveille, who each registered two goals, Maine [11-5-0] concluded its pre-Christmas schedule with its second straight victory.
“It was a good way to close out the first half of the season,” said Maine head coach Tim Whitehead. “It was a good, thorough 60 minutes of hockey where we can be proud of how we played against a very hard working team. To outwork them tonight is an accomplishment. I like how they play and I am impressed with their team.”
Despite, an abysmal record of 1-9-4, Northeastern hung with the Black Bears for more than 30 minutes. Maine, however, saved their best for the final 30 minutes. In the closing two frames, the Black Bears outshoot the Huskies 28-11 for a score of 3-0. Adding even more salt to the wounds of Northeastern, Maine dictated much of the pace in the third period.
“They just won battles, they outworked us, they out skated us,” said Northeastern head coach and former Maine assistant Greg Cronin. “They wanted the game more.”
For the Black Bears, the win was exactly what the doctor ordered.
“Not only was it good to break the losing streak but we haven’t played a full 60 minutes for the past month and a half,” said Leveille. “We wanted to finish strong the first half of the season and that’s what we did tonight.”
Maine finally broke free of the Huskies at 17:08 of the second period, when Bret Tyler feed a wide open Moore a slow pass. With Tyler having drawn the defender to him, Moore was all alone at the hash marks for the shot.
“I just came onto the ice for a change and Bret had carried it over the line,” said Moore. “He had just one defenseman over on him and I kind of held up in the slot and he threw it back to me. I just used the defenseman as a screen and shot it through his legs at a low level.”
The goal broke a 2-2 stalemate and was all the Black Bears needed to get a jump on their opponent.
Picking up right where they left off at the end of the second, Maine pounced on the Huskies with a goal at 1:36 of the third. Again it was Moore pilfering the net of Northeastern netminder Adam Geragosian. This time the Black Bear captain garnered a behind the net pass from Leveille and slammed home the puck on the glove side of Geragosian. Bret Tyler also snagged an assist on the play.
“No matter what the score was today, I think we are just happy with our focus and our effort,” said Moore.
However, the Black Bears were not quite done.
At 9:44 of the third, Moore had one more trick up his sleeve. With Leveille waiting backdoor on Geragosian, Moore ripped a beautiful pass to his line mate. Leveille easily one-timed the pass home.
“I just saw Lev’s backdoor,” said Moore.
Leveille had high praise for the highlight reel goal.
“Greg made a nice hard pass and the goalie had no chance.”
Josh Soares, who created the scoring opportunity with a vital defense play, also earned an assist on the tally.
For the remainder of the period, the Black Bears were able to ice the game thanks to goaltender Matt Lundin, who snatched seven saves en route to 14 on the night.
“I thought he was very good, a little hard luck in some shorthanded situations, we didn’t give him a lot of help there,” said Whitehead discussing the play of Lundin. “But I liked his toughness. I thought he played very well from start to finish.”
The story of the game for Maine, though, was the improved play of Leveille and Moore, who had both been quiet the past couple of weeks.
“When your top players come through in the clutch its just great to see,” said Whitehead.
Both players ended with an assist, as well two goals.
“The biggest thing was just getting the puck deep and winning battles and keeping it in their end” said Moore. “I think that was what we were mainly happy about.”
Cronin, felt the Black Bear offensive attack came out flying from the start.
“They came out and said ‘come on let’s play,” said Cronin.
In the opening period, Maine out shoot Northeastern 13-5 but still failed to haul in an early advantage. In fact it was the Huskies who snagged the limelight first. At 19:05 of the opening period, while on the penalty kill, Bryan Esner smacked home a bouncing puck that had just ricocheted off the glass.
“That was definitely a tough time for our team, especially because of the games we’ve been having lately,” said Moore. “To play as well as we did in the first and still be down 1-0 was kind of a weird point.”
“Sometimes you never know, but we did play hard in the first period which was a big step for us,” said Whitehead. “We are very pleased with that.”
Maine bounced back at 5:42 of the second when Leveille recorded his first goal of the game.
“The first goal, I was just battling and cycling down low,” said Leveille. “We got a good shot from the point and we all us drove the night and I got a nice rebound.”
Steve Mullin and Josh Soares collected assists on the goal.
The stalemate was short lived for the Black Bears with Esner again finding the
back of the net on the penalty kill. This time the shorthanded tally came at 8:05 when Esner beat Lundin on a breakaway. With the puck bouncing free at Maine’s blue, Esner sped in freely on Lundin and deked to the right to find an open net. The goal was scored on a Maine 5-on-3.
Tyler evened it back up at a minute and a half later on the powerplay.
“The forwards had Northeastern running around a little bit,” said Tyler. “Keen Hopson made a great pass and Jankus was screening in front and I just fired it low from the point” said Tyler.
For Cronin, the reason for the loss was simple.
“They outclassed us,” said Cronin. We haven’t got out hit all year and they just walloped us.”
Maine finished the game 2-for-5 on the powerplay, while Northeastern was 0-for-5. Both teams combined for an overwhelming 30 penalties.
Both teams will now rest for the next two weeks before heading off to play in the Florida College Classic on Dec. 27.