ORONO, Me. — With few weekends more meaningful for the Maine Black Bears than this one, they certainly started it with a bang.
Maine trounced the University of Massachusetts, 7-3, Friday night at Alfond Arena.
Two goals by Brian Flynn and a highlight-reel worthy goal and two assists by Joey Diamond paced the Black Bears, who are winners of seven of their last eight games.
“We got out of the gate strong and we were able to build a lead,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “I was disappointed in the third period, but that had a lot to due with UMass playing well. We knew this was going to be a tough game, and we wanted to be ready right out of the gate.”
Maine improves to 18-9-3 and 13-8-2 in Hockey East, while UMass falls to 10-14-5 and 6-12-4 in conference.
With the win, the Black Bears are tied for third in Hockey East with the Massachusetts-Lowell, behind Boston University and Boston College, which are both tied for first.
“They blew us out of the building tonight,” said UMass coach Don Cahoon. “They had poise with the puck and had plenty of time to make plays.”
The Black Bears took the lead early, with forward Kyle Beattie’s fifth goal of the season less than five minutes into the first period. Andrew Cerretani kept the play alive by getting back onside in time for Beattie’s rush, which he finished with a wrist shot to the right of goalie Steve Mastalerz.
Maine made it 2-0 with six minutes left in the first period when its vaunted power play struck again. Defender Nick Pryor fired a shot from the blue line that snuck through a crowded offensive zone and into the net.
“I thought Nick’s power-play goal was very important, giving us the two-goal lead,” Whitehead said.
The Minutemen had their first power play a few moments after, but couldn’t connect on net. Dan Sullivan stopped all six shots he faced.
With less than two minutes remaining in the period, it looked like the Black Bears took a 3-0 lead when Flynn found Spencer Abbott in the crease. However, the goal was waved off after the referees called obstruction for Abbott being in the crease.
Maine picked up its third goal in the first period with 22 seconds remaining. Diamond traveled behind the net and found a wide-open Flynn for an easy put-in.
“I thought we came out with a lot of energy,” Flynn said. “Getting that third one at the end of the period was good to get some momentum and crush their spirit a little bit.”
The second period saw little action to start, as the score remained 3-0 midway through the frame. Then the floodgates opened for the Black Bears, as they doubled their lead.
Flynn started the scoring spree, scoring his second of the game after another nice assist from Diamond.
Less than two minutes later, Matt Mangene scored in his sixth straight game after Will O’Neill found him in the neutral zone. Mangene used his speed to get up the ice and cut back to Mastalerz’s left side and beat him.
“[Mangene's] been fabulous,” Whitehead said. “If the league had a most improved player, I think he’d get it. He’s brought his game to another level.”
That was the end of the night for Mastalerz, as he was replaced by freshman Kevin Boyle.
Boyle’s job wasn’t easier, as Diamond cheekily beat the freshman. On a clear breakaway, Diamond stopped short after Boyle committed and spun around to flick the backhanded shot past Boyle for an easy goal.
“Spencer made a great pass to me cutting through the middle, and I kind of lost the puck when I went in to deke and it just landed on my stick and I was able to spin around and put it in the net,” Diamond said. “I was trying to just beat him on the forehand and I just lost the puck and cut to the other side.”
The Minutemen picked up the offensive intensity in the third period, but it was too little, too late.
A third period goal by Patrick Kiley ended Sullivan’s shutout bid, followed by a tip-in by Kevin Czepiel.
A third goal by Conor Sheary, his 10th of the season with just over a minute remaining, brought the score to 6-3, but Theo Andersson scored his first goal of the season for Maine to bring the final score to 7-3.
“We were totally out-classed from start to finish,” Cahoon said. “The third period you can spit on, because they had a six-goal lead and you can’t tell me they’re playing with the same intensity. I don’t want to take anything away from our guys for making an effort, they appeared to be better, but I’m not sure of that.”
“We came out way too slow and you can’t get behind a team like Maine,” said senior forward TJ Syner. “We played for pride [in the third period], going out there and playing for each other. It’s pretty tough to swallow. This should light a fire under us for tomorrow.”
Each team meet again Saturday night at 7 p.m.