ORONO, Maine — A step behind. That’s how Northeastern coach Jim Madigan described his team’s defensive performance against Maine on Sunday afternoon at Alfond Arena.
Northeastern scrambled to slow down Maine’s offense early as the Black Bears executed accurate passes and peppered Northeastern junior goaltender Chris Rawlings with shots.
The 16th-ranked Black Bears jumped out to a 3-0 lead after the first period and never looked back as they defeated the Huskies 6-3 in a game that was not as close as the score implied.
“You have to play fast up here,” Madigan said. “For the most part we didn’t match their speed and offensive intensity. They were buzzing our net.”
Maine senior winger Spencer Abbott scored two goals and added an assist as part of a dominant performance by the Black Bears’ top line of Joey Diamond and Brian Flynn alongside Abbott.
“We stuck to our game plan tonight,” said Abbott. “Tonight, we really established what our identity was.”
Flynn finished with a goal and two assists for Maine while Diamond added a goal and an assist.
“It was a good game,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “The first period was as well as we have played this season. The players were determined to not just play hard but execute our systems well. That was the key.”
Northeastern was able to apply heavy pressure in the offensive zone for brief periods of time and executed effectively on the power play but could not find a way to finish or sustain opportunities.
Rawlings, who carried the Huskies last season with spectacular play between the pipes, looked uncomfortable as he struggled picking up routine shots, making easy saves look tougher than they needed to.
Maine sensed Rawlings’ tension early as it placed bodies in front of the net and fired shots from every angle possible on Rawlings. Rawlings was pulled and replaced by sophomore Clay Witt with 12 minutes remaining in the third after the Black Bears scored their sixth and final goal.
“They came out really strong, which we anticipated they would after they lost their home opener here,” said Madigan. “They have some small forwards that can really skate and put pressure on our defense and we didn’t respond as well as we would have liked to.”
Maine squashed Northeastern’s attempts to rally as the Black Bears responded to score within four minutes of each of Northeastern’s first two goals.
“That was important,” said Whitehead. “Any time you can respond with a quick goal it takes that momentum away.”
Trailing 3-0 midway through the second, Northeastern failed to convert on a crucial 56 second five-on-three power play. The Huskies finished 0-5 on the power play.
“They responded when we did,” said Madigan. “They continued to separate themselves. They’re a good team.”
Northeastern forward Vinny Saponari added a goal at the 19:50 mark for the final margin.
Maine possessed the puck for a majority of the first period and didn’t allow Northeastern to get its first shot on net until the 9:02 mark. Maine fired off 11 shots in that time.
Huskies center Garrett Vermeersch received a interference penalty at the 10:15 mark in the first as he slowed Maine forward Adam Shemansky against the boards in front of his bench and didn’t let him go.
Three seconds into the ensuing power play Flynn won the face off for the Black Bears and pushed the puck backwards. Shemansky picked the puck up just behind the left face off dot and took two strides toward the hash marks, where he ripped a shot far side past Rawlings’ glove.
Maine finished 2-for-7 on the power play.
Maine didn’t take long to add another as 1:27 later the Black Bears beat Rawlings again.
Diamond tied up Vermeersch along the boards just inside of the Huskies blue line and forced the puck ahead to Abbott, who was standing alone in the slot. Abbott received the puck and fired it under Rawlings’ blocker in one fluid movement.
“Joey wins a lot of those battles,” said Abbott. “He won that one and threw it down to me and I went low blocker side.”
Northeastern increased its pressure after the second goal and started getting shots on net, testing Maine sophomore goalie Dan Sullivan.
Sullivan stood tall on the Huskies’ best scoring chance in the first as he denied forward Mike McLaughlin off a one-timer attempt from the top of the crease. Sullivan slid from right to left, stretched out and got a piece of McLaughlin’s point-blank attempt off of a pass from the corner.
The Black Bears scored again with 1:33 left in the first when Maine defender Mark Nemec saved a puck on the right side of the blue line and let a quick wrist shot fly in the direction of the net. Kyle Beattie was in the right place as he got his stick on the puck and redirected it past Rawlings.
Sullivan denied another Grade-A Northeastern scoring opportunity at the 12-minute mark.
Huskies junior forward Alex Tuckerman busted by Maine defenders and carried the puck down the left wing on a breakaway and attempted a quick move, only to get denied by Sullivan’s quick glove hand.
Northeastern had yet another chance to break into the lead with a two-man advantage but was stifled by strong defense — Matt Mangene cleared the puck from the zone twice in crucial moments.
After Maine preserved its lead, the Black Bears added to it, capitalizing on a Huskies penalty to Anthony Bitetto.
Abbott controlled the puck just inside of the middle of the blue line and dished it off to Flynn at the top of the left circle. Flynn quickly fed the puck to Beattie deep in the corner and busted to the slot, where he received a return pass from Beattie and chipped the puck past Rawlings.
The Huskies finally broke into the goal column at the 18:36 mark of the second when Braden Pimm jammed the puck along the boards at the top of the left circle and allowed Saponari to pick the puck up. Saponari fed the puck to Bitetto at the point where he fired a bouncing wrist shot on net that snuck through Sullivan.
Maine added another goal 8:33 into the third during a delayed penalty against Northeastern. Flynn carried the puck to his own blue line and regrouped while Maine gained the man advantage. Flynn found a streaking Diamond at Northeastern’s blue line, and he split the middle of two Huskies defenders pushing into the zone and roofed a shot over Rawlings glove.
Never quitting, the Huskies pushed on and responded.
Northeastern tallied 6:42 into the third when Pimm made a pretty drop pass at the top of the left circle for McLaughlin, who picked the puck up and weaved right across the circle toward the hash marks, where he snapped a shot past Sullivan’s short side.
Maine responded at the 8:13 mark for a 6-2 advantage.
Matt Mangene shut down near the hash marks on the right side and, after spinning around, played a perfect pass through the slot to Abbott at the top of the left circle. Abbott didn’t think twice as he blasted a one-timer past Rawlings, ending the night for the Huskies goalkeeper.
“Matt made a good look,” said Abbott. “I was open in the seam and he hit me.”
Saponari closed the gap on the score sheet for the Huskies with 10 seconds left as he pick pocketed Maine’s Ryan Hegarty on his own blue line and headed off to the races alone. With only Sullivan left to beat Saponari fired a shot from the slot that beat Sullivan to the short side.
“Hats off to Maine,” said Madigan. “They played well and had a couple of power-play goals.”
Sullivan made 24 saves for Maine (1-1).
Rawlings made 23 saves before being pulled. Witt made 11 saves in relief for the Huskies (0-1-1).
Maine outshot Northeastern 40-27.
“We stuck to our game plan regardless of where the puck bounced,” said Whitehead. “For 60 minutes we executed and made very few poor decisions with the puck and played with a purpose.”