The University of Maine men’s hockey team won its first road game of the season on Friday night and made it two in a row on Saturday evening.
Senior center Will Merchant scored a pair of goals and junior right wing Blaine Byron scored a shorthanded goal and also had a pair of assists as the Black Bears held off UMass 5-4 at the Mullins Center Saturday night to complete the weekend sweep at Amherst, Massachusetts.
Maine won Friday night’s game 5-2.
“It felt like it took forever to get a road win,” sophomore left winger Nolan Vesey said. “We played well all weekend. We dominated them in their own zone.”
The Black Bears, who had gone 0-7-1 in their previous eight road games prior to this weekend, improved to 7-15-6 overall, 4-8-2 in Hockey East. UMass suffered its eighth straight loss and is now 7-16-4 and 2-11-4, respectively.
“It was a great road sweep,” Maine coach Red Gendron said. “Everybody contributed. We played real well in the first period, we got away from our game in the second period and played real well again in the third period.”
Maine was without sophomore center Cedric Lacroix, who was suspended for one game by Hockey East for high-sticking UMass’ Jake Horton on Friday night. He wasn’t assessed a penalty because none of the officials saw it.
Gendron called the one-game suspension “justified.”
Merchant and Brian Morgan (power play) staked Maine to a 2-0 lead with goals just 1:41 apart in the first period and Merchant extended the lead 3:25 into the second period.
Goals by Dennis Kravchenko and Dominic Trento later in the middle period reduced the lead to 3-2.
Byron’s second shorthanded goal of the season and fifth of his career restored the two-goal cushion just 1:07 into the third period but Brennan Baxandall answered at the 6:31 mark.
Vesey gave the Black Bears some breathing room by scoring the eventual game-winner on the power play with 4:15 remaining before Ivan Chukarov again pulled UMass within one at the 19:27 mark after UMass coach John Micheletto had pulled goalie Henry Dill in favor of an extra attacker.
Maine outshot UMass 46-35. Matt Morris made 31 saves for Maine while Dill finished with 41.
Merchant gave Maine it would never relinquish nine minutes into the game when he swatted home an Andrew Tegeler rebound.
“I just got a piece of it,” Merchant said. “Getting that first goal each night was huge for us. It got us going a little more.”
Byron had opened the scoring on Friday night.
Morgan scored for the second straight game when the rebound of an Eric Schurhamer shot hit him and deflected into the net.
Merchant, who entered the season with nine career goals in 100 games, scored his 10th of the season in the second period when Justin Rai hit him with a pass, he split the two UMass defensemen and beat Dill with a backhander. it was freshman Rai’s first career point.
Sophomore Kravchenko scored from the high slot to give him five goals in seven career games against Maine.
Trento’s one-timer off a Keith Burchett feed cut the lead to 3-2.
In the third period, just 58 seconds after Schurhamer received a hooking penalty, a Cam Brown pass sent Brown in alone on Dill.
“[Brown] made a diving play,” Byron said. “I had a lot of time and space with the puck. I took a backhander that hit the post and the puck came back to me. I just threw the puck towards the net.”
Following Baxandall’s goal, the game remained 4-3 until Vesey gave them some valuable breathing room off the rebound off a Byron shot.
“Blaine took a nice shot, the puck came off Dill’s right pad to me and I shot it,” Vesey said.
Maine hosts defending national champion Providence College (17-5-4, 8-3-3) for a pair next weekend.