ORONO, Maine — Some Border War.
On Sunday, No. 1 Maine, the last unbeaten team in Division I, was rocked off its pedestal by archrival New Hampshire 8-2.
In their second straight victory at Alfond Arena, the Wildcats dominated the Black Bears offensively from start to finish, deflating the pregame hype for the rivals’ Hockey East contest. The eight goals were the most given up by Maine since the Clinton administration, on March 11, 1994.
“I think this speaks for itself,” said Maine head coach Tim Whitehead. “Eight goals at the Alfond, that’s pretty darn good. They just really kicked our butts in every category.”
“Coming in we knew they were the best team in the country and we were expecting to be just like last year’s game — a shootout, a dogfight,” said UNH’s Mike Radja. “We didn’t expect this.”
Captain Michel Leveille, who scored Maine’s first goal, echoed the same sentiment as Whitehead.
“I don’t think this has ever happened in my career here,” said Leveille. “It just seems like everything was going for them. We had a couple of chances and didn’t capitalize. You have to give them credit they drove the net and got some shots.”
With the pummeling, Maine joined fellow previously-unbeaten Cornell, which fell Saturday against Dartmouth, on the losing side of the scoresheet. The pair of upsets will undoubtedly shake up the polls Monday.
“We blew that one, but it was going to happen sooner or later,” said Black Bear defenseman Mike Lundin.
Led by the first line of Radja, Jacob Micflikier and Brett Hemingway, the Wildcats struck early, putting up a 3-0 score on Maine by the end of the first. Backed by a newfound confidence at Alfond Arena, where they have now registered back-to-back seven- and eight-goal games, the Wildcats looked much better than their No. 13 ranking in the nation.
“We came out hard and beat a very good team, so I’m extremely pleased,” said Umile. “This is exactly how we have to play if we want to excel.”
Throughout the match, Umile’s boys took it to netminder Ben Bishop, who surrendered six of the scores, the most goals he has ever given up in his young career.
“I will be the first one to say it wasn’t my night,” said Bishop. “I didn’t have a good night. It’s just in the past now. We’ll take this in stride.”
On the other side of the ice it was directly the opposite.
Buoyed by a two-goal advantage for nearly the entire game, junior Kevin Regan provided the Wildcats with one of his finest performances. Despite the constant bombardment of the Maine student section, Regan held strong collecting 33 saves.
“This is huge for us,” said Regan. “Anytime you win in this building its a huge win. Them being No. 1 and playing so well makes it even bigger.”
Regan felt his job was made only easier by the offensive explosion.
“I don’t think that’s going to happen too often, so we’ve just got to enjoy it,” said Regan.
The backbreaker for Maine came halfway through the second period when Bobby Butler one-timed a corner pass from Matt Fornataro into the back of the net. The goal came courtesy of a mishandled play behind the net by Bishop at 13:53.
“I was trying to bang it off the boards and beat their guy so our defense could get a clean breakout,” said Bishop. “I’m not quite sure what happened. I was trying to cut off the pass and they shot it around my stick. Like I said, it wasn’t my night.”
The score came five minutes after Maine had managed to crawl back into the game with a Mike Hamilton rebound goal. The score, at 8:26 of the second period, saw Lundin rifle the shot on net where Hamilton proceed to jam it home on the power play.
It was the second time on the afternoon that UNH had bounced back strong after a Maine goal. At 6:15 Craig Switzer rocketed a slapshot into the back of the net to bring the score back up to 4-1 after a Leveille power-play tally.
“I point to the two goals in the second period being big,” said Regan. “They came back and scored two. If it’s 3-2 going into the third period it’s a lot different in this building. ”
Whitehead felt that the Black Bears had shot themselves in the foot after 10-minute penalties by Wes Clark and Rob Bellamy at 1:34 of the second.
“I actually thought we made some progress in the second but I think the thing that really hurt us was the two 10-minute penalties,” said Whitehead. “We came back with good passion and a lot better hustle, and we’re able to generate a goal. We seemed to be building some momentum. But then we took some penalties that really burned us.”
In the third period, carrying a three-goal advantage, the Wildcats added three more scores, two coming against Bishop replacement Dave Wilson. The goals came from Chris Murray, Fornataro and Trevor Smith.
“Obviously it wasn’t his best game,” said Whitehead of Bishop. “But even Roger Clemens and Tom Brady have tough outings. He’s our rock of Gibraltar back there. So he had a tough night but he’s been absolutely fabulous for us.”
Regan felt one of the differences was Radja’s second goal of the game, with one second to go in the first period. On the play he beat everyone to the net and got one by Bishop.
“I had no idea how much time was left,” said Radja. “After I scored I just looked at the clock and was as shocked as everyone else was. It was huge for us to end the first period on that note and come into the locker room with a 3-0 lead. ”
Maine will look to regroup next weekend against Boston College, while UNH faces Massachusetts-Lowell.
“This outcome was not expected,” said Radja. “We came out firing. Any time you play a team that is on a streak you want to be the team that knocks them off it. I think that showed in our play.”