ORONO, Maine — Merrimack forward Rhett Bly scored the game-winning goal during a four-on-four with 10:53 to play in the third period to help give the Warriors a 3-2 victory over the University of Maine Black Bears.
“I thought we played really well for large stretches of the game,” said Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy. “Even though it got a little scattered on the ice, our guys, especially our older guys like Mike Collins, did a really good job of settling guys down. I thought we played great all weekend.”
“Merrimack got out to a couple leads and we just couldn’t hang with them; I thought we fought hard, but it just wasn’t good enough to win,” said Maine forward Connor Leen. “Merrimack’s systems were on point, and we just couldn’t get anything today.”
After a slow start the night before, the first period was action-packed. The Black Bears had more opportunities to score, but ultimately Merrimack was able to pull ahead with a goal before the first intermission.
Maine forward Devin Shore had two excellent opportunities to put the Black Bears up early in the period. Shore was open for a slap shot on the right side and hit the puck off the post, and Merrimack goaltender Sam Marotta recovered the rebound.
Maine forward Joey Diamond and Merrimack defenseman Jordan Heywood picked up penalties to make a four-on-four 12:52 into the first period, and once again Shore had another wide-open shot, but this time missed wide left.
After Diamond left the box, he teamed up with Stu Higgins on a two-on-one against Warriors forward Shawn Bates, but Bates used his stick to knock the puck away from Higgins on the pass from Diamond at the last moment.
With 17:46 gone in the first period, Merrimack went on a five-on-three power play after Maine defenseman Mark Nemec and forward Adam Shemansky were sent to the box. On the ensuing penalty, Maine’s Steven Swavely broke his stick, leaving only two Maine players with sticks during the penalty kill.
Merrimack defenseman Kyle Bigos was left open for a slap shot from the left side, and he fired it past Maine goaltender Martin Ouellette to give the Warriors a 1-0 lead 18:36 into the first period.
The Warriors wasted no time in the second period and extended their lead only 39 seconds in. Collins and Brian Christie assisted Jordan Heywood as Merrimack took a 2-0 lead.
Merrimack had another opportunity to score 13:00 in when forwards Clayton Jardine and Josh Meyers had a two-on-one, but Jardine missed wide left.
With three penalties called on the Warriors in the period, the Black Bears had three power-play opportunities. Maine appeared apprehensive during its power plays, attempting barely any shots with their one-man advantage.
During the final two minutes of the period, Maine’s offense came alive while short-handed. After a boarding call sent forward Kyle Beattie to the penalty box, Diamond intercepted a pass and had nobody in front of him on his way to the net. He shot the puck past Moratta 18:59 into the second period to make the score 2-1.
After Maine intercepted another puck, Shore had a similar opportunity, but misfired. Nonetheless, it appeared Maine had momentum going into the second intermission after aggressive penalty killing.
The third period proved to be an exciting final chapter to the weekend series. Maine forward Ryan Lomberg and Merrimack defenseman Tom McCarthy were sent to the box 9:17 into the period, setting up a four-on-four.
Just over a minute later, Merrimack forward Mike Collins and Merrimack defenseman Kyle Bigos supplied the assist for Bly to give Merrimack a 3-1 lead.
“Last night was a Hockey East game,” Collins said. “There were bumps, there were bounces, and things aren’t going to go your way every night. For the most part, I thought we put in a good effort tonight. When it came down to it, we got the job done.”
Collins finished with three assists on the night.
With under five minutes to play, Leen scored his sixth goal of the season off an assist from Diamond and defenseman Mike Cornell to make the score 3-2.
“It just kind of popped out to me and I was able to get a stick on it and head it toward the net, and it took a good bounce on its way,” Leen said.
Maine pulled Ouellette with 30 seconds to play, but it was to no avail, as the Warriors held on and went home with three points on the weekend.
“We’re disappointed with the result; it was a hard-fought game and the guys battled hard, but we couldn’t find the equalizer,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “It’s tough when you’re fighting from behind, particularly in a year where you don’t have a lot of offense. We don’t want to get into a game where you’re playing from behind. When we made it two to one, there was a potential for a huge momentum swing, but unfortunately it was at the end of the period. Having said that, Leen’s goal had the potential of another huge shift, but with Swavely’s penalty, it was just bad timing. I thought we were going to get the equalizer in the last five minutes, but unfortunately we didn’t get that opportunity.”
Maine falls to 5-14-4 on the year and will head to Boston College next weekend, while Merrimack improves to 9-9-5 and will face New Hampshire next.