ORONO, Maine — UMaine junior goalie Dave Wilson made his first men’s hockey start since Oct. 31 and he turned it into a noteworthy one.
Wilson turned aside 19 shots, including a game-saving stop off Chris Barton with one minute remaining, and the Black Bears held off Merrimack College 2-1 at the Alfond Arena Friday night.
It was Maine’s sixth straight win and the Bears improved to 7-3 overall, 4-2 in Hockey East. Merrimack fell to 3-6-2 and 1-5-1, respectively.
Maine upped its Alfond Arena unbeaten streak against Merrimack to 18 games (17-0-1).
The two teams will play again tonight at 7.
“I was very happy with the way I played. I was relaxed all night,” said Wilson, who received the start when freshman standout Scott Darling was suspended for a game for missing a couple of workouts. “And the team played a great game offensively and defensively.”
“He made the saves he needed to make,” said Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy. “We had plenty of chances.”
The game got off to an inauspicious start for Wilson when J.C. Robitaille converted on a two-on-one with Jesse Todd just 46 seconds into the game.
But Maine freshman defenseman Will O’Neill and junior right wing Brett Carriere answered later in the first period with their first career goals.
That was all the scoring as both teams played thorough defensive hockey and limited the high-percentage chances.
Wilson was razor sharp and finished with four Grade-A (high-percentage) saves. Merimack Andrew Braithwaite was also stellar, winding up with six Grade-A stops among his 21.
Maine’s penalty-killing also proved pivotal as the Bears had to kill off a five-minute power play when defenseman Jeff Dimmen was assessed a five-minute major and game misconduct for hitting from behind with 2:07 remaining in the second period.
Wilson saved his best save for last when Barton was parked to his left just beyond the crease.
Dennehy had pulled Braithwaite in favor of the extra attacker and Adam Ross wristed the puck through a maze of players to the net front.
“The puck wound up in the skates of Rob Ricci and he took a couple of whacks at it,” said Barton. “The puck deflected over to me but I shot it into his pads. I should have gone upstairs with it.”
Wilson said he was trying to locate the puck through a bunch of legs and saw it bounce over to Barton.
“I just extended my leg,” said Wilson.
“He played a great game but we made him look better than he was,” said Barton.
Robitaille opened the scoring by taking a nifty diagonal pass from Todd while skating full speed down the right wing, cutting across the top of the crease and tucking a backhander into the short side.
O’Neill tied it four seconds after a Merrimack penalty had elapsed. Spencer Abbott fed the puck to him at the left point and O’Neill’s screened wrister beat Braithwaite to upper short-side corner at the 5:48 mark.
“I didn’t see it but it was far enough out that I should have stopped it,” said Braithwaite.
Carriere’s game-winner 3:55 later came off the rebound of a Jeff Marshall slap shot from the top of the right circle. Marshall used a Warrior defenseman as a screen and Braithwaite made an alert right-pad save.
But the rebound came to the unattended Carriere.
“Jeff did all the work. The puck came right to my stick and I put it far corner. The goalie slid over [to the short- side post],” said Carriere.
Maine dominated the first period, outshooting the Warriors 12-5.
But the Warriors controlled the second period, outshooting Maine 8-2 only to be stymied by Wilson.
‘”They played very well in the second period but David made some big stops and we gained momentum killing off that [five-minute] penalty. Then we played pretty well in the third period,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “I was very proud of David.”