DURHAM, N.H. — New Hampshire moved into a tie for fourth place in Hockey East, defeating the rival Maine Black Bears 3-2 before a sellout crowd of 6,501.
UNH never trailed, using an Eric Knodel slap shot from the point to seize a second-period lead it would never relinquish.
The Wildcats were coming off a weekend in which they were swept by Union and had also lost top players Trevor van Riemsdyk and Grayson Downing to injury. Midway through the game, they also lost Kyle Smith to an apparent concussion. However, they overcame adversity with players like Jay Camper, who scored his first goal, moving into bigger roles.
“It’s always tough when you lose some of your key guys to injuries, but this was a great win for us,” Knodel said. “We battled all night. A lot of guys stepped up and played key roles and were able to get it done.”
Top goal-scorer Nick Sorkin gave UNH the lead just 47 seconds into the game, but Maine tied it a little more than two minutes later with Will Merchant’s first goal.
The Black Bears went on to dominate the period, outshooting UNH, 16-6, but the Wildcats rallied in the second and third periods.
Casey DeSmith stopped 32 of 34 shots for the win.
“It was a good win and we beat a good team,” UNH coach Dick Umile said. “We’ll take the win and head to Orono.”
Smith will likely be out when the two teams face each other again on Saturday, completing the home-and-home series at Alfond Arena.
For the Black Bears, that venue will be a welcome change since they remain winless on the road. In 10 road games, they’ve scored only 15 goals.
“The work habits and compete level were there like they always are with the University of Maine Black Bears,” Maine coach Red Gendron said. “But we didn’t execute well enough for long enough so we lost the game. It’s no more complicated than that.
“The only thing we accept as good enough is winning. Period.”
The game opened with wide-open, up-and-down action, pointing to a likely high-scoring outcome.
Sorkin got the scoring started, using a goal-scorer’s patience to hold onto the puck as he cut right to left. Sorkin deked Martin Ouellette, then put the puck into a wide open net.
That lead proved short-lived as little more than two minutes later Maine evened the score with Merchant’s first goal, beating DeSmith from the slot, glove side.
Arguably, Ouellette should have stopped Knodel’s second-period goal, which came without traffic in front.
Through the rest of the period, both sides had their opportunities, none better than Casey Thrush cutting through the Maine defense only to clang iron on his shot.
The third period opened with the Wildcats holding a 2-1 lead, and they extended their lead with tic-tac-toe passing at 2:22, capitalizing nicely on a three-on-two. Thrush passed to Tyler Kelleher below the right faceoff dot and Kelleher quickly moved the puck to Camper on the far post where he one-timed it into the net.
Mark Anthoine made it interesting with an extra-skater goal at 19:05, but the Black Bears could not add the equalizer.