ORONO, Maine — For the Maine Black Bears, none of it mattered.
They didn’t care about any eight-game unbeaten streaks at home. Nor did they want to hear about their coach’s record against UNH. Heck, they didn’t even care who was playing for the Wildcats.
It was simple. All they wanted was another victory. And on Friday night, they got it.
In another classic installment of the border war, Maine (18-9-0, 11-7-0 Hockey East) used the resurgent play of Josh Soares and Mike Hamilton to capture a vital 4-1 win over UNH (13-10-4, 9-6-3).
En route to their fourth consecutive victory and ninth at home against the Wildcats, the Black Bears faced a much different squad than what they saw the last time the two archrivals faced off.
On Tuesday, UNH head Dick Umile suspended seven forwards for Friday’s game. Among them were stars Bret Hemingway, Josh Ciocco and Dave Winnik. However, that didn’t change Maine’s attitude. Hamilton, who tallied an assist and a goal on the night, believes it only upped the intensity.
“Coach didn’t want to put the lineup up because he didn’t want guys on our team worrying about who was in or who was out,” said Hamilton. “That doesn’t effect how we play. Right before we were coming out in the hallway before game it was so loud and intense. We got that energy level up and that was a big factor.
“We didn’t even look at their roster,” said Maine forward Billy Ryan. “We knew if you played for UNH you had to be a good hockey player.”
The strategy paid off for the Black Bears. Sparked by the steady play of freshman netminder Ben Bishop, who recorded 21 saves, Maine moved into sole possession of fourth place in Hockey East with the victory. Not only did the Black Bears bump the Wildcats back to fifth place, but they inched one point behind Providence in the third slot.
“This is Maine hockey; it is the second half, we play to get into the playoffs and win championships,” said Soares. “We know what time it is.”
“This is a tough league to move up the standings, we’re just going to keep taking one game at a time,” said Maine head coach Tim Whitehead, who is 6-0-1 against UNH at Alfond Arena. “It’s going to be a great finish in our league.”
Whitehead was pleased with his squad for not letting a scoreless first period affect how they approached the final 40 minutes.
“I think it was important that we didn’t get frustrated,” said Whitehead. “We thought we had a decent first period and we had some chances. But I don’t think we got to the net very well for the second shot. I thought in the second and third period we did a better job of getting to the net for the second and third shot. We were fortunate enough to get a couple goals that way.”
The second and ultimately game-winning goal came at 11:41 of the second period when Josh Soares capitalized on a heads up play by defenseman Mike Lundin.
“It was just a great play,” said Soares. “Mike Lundin put the puck up nicely to Greg, he jumped over the blue line and I came over for support. He put it into space. I just was trying to get off quick. The glove was open so I just tried to put it there.”
And get it there he did. Ripping a laser past the glove of Regan, Soares had tallied his 10th goal of the season.
The score hit the back of the net only three minutes after an Andrew Leach wrist shot had sailed over Bishop’s glove leg. For Bishop, the Leach goal, which came from Brad Flaishans and Brian Yandle, was the only blemish of the night.
Maine assistant captain, Michel Leveille, who made his return to the lineup after a sprained knee, felt Bishop’s awareness in net was pivotal.
“When you get a goalie that plays the puck like that it’s like a third defenseman out there,” said Leveille. “It’s huge. It’s like a Martin Bordeur. He prevented a lot of chances for them to attack offensively.”
Despite the loss, Regan, who made 37 saves, earned rave reviews from both his coach and an opponent.
“We had a couple bad changes that cost us a couple goals,” said Umile. “Otherwise, I thought we had a shot. Kevin played great in the net and he gave us an opportunity to win.”
“Obviously, Regan is a very strong goalie that played very well tonight,” said Whitehead.
At the start of the third, Maine increased its lead to two when Mike Hamilton slammed home a rebound off a Michel Leveille shot. The score marked Hamilton’s first goal in 32 games.
“It was a definitely a big monkey off my back,” said Hamilton.
“I was really happy for him, he works real hard,” said Soares. “We know what he can do. It’s been a tough year for him so far but it looks like he is turning things around. Hopefully he can continue to do what he did his freshman year.”
Soares continued his fiery play late in the game, tallying an open netter with 2:04 left in the game.
“We have really been focused the last two weeks,” said Soares. “We know what we got to do. I think we were a little too nonchalant for a month there. But now it’s gut check time. We have to win and that’s pretty much it. It’s great to be able to beat your archrival at home and gave our fans a great game.”
The first of the night’s goals came at 4:01 of the second period on the power play when Billy Ryan sent a laser over the shoulder of Boston native Kevin Regan.
“On the goal John Hopson brought it to Mike Hamilton and Mike gave it to me,” said Ryan. “I kind of just waited and let everyone go to their spots. John Hopson took away the goalie’s eyes and I put it over the goalie’s shoulder.”
Despite the ultimately loss, Umile was happy with his smaller-than-normal bench.
“They did everything we asked them to tonight,” said Umile. “It was a difficult situation. I think the people that step in; the Brian Foley’s, the Thompson’s, the Kapstad’s, did a really good job. It was a very difficult situation. I wasn’t displeased with their effort.”
“I don’t think we were shorthanded,” said Regan. “We had 18 good guys on the ice. We went in here to give them a run. I am disappointed in the outcome. But you can’t say anything against anyone’s effort. We had a chance right up there till the end.”
Maine finished the game 1-for-4 on the power play, while UNH went 0-for-2.
The two foes return to Alfond Arena on Saturday for the rubber game. The puck is set to drop at 7 p.m.
“We’ve got to be ready, [tonight] they got their full lineup back,” said Leveille. “It’s going to be a typical UNH-Maine game. If we lose we are back in the same spot we started. We don’t want to lose.”