ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine Black Bears made a valiant comeback but it fell short as the Merrimack College Warriors won their first Hockey East game since Nov. 13 by virtue of a 6-4 victory at Alfond Arena on Friday night.
Merrimack improved to 9-15-7 overall and 3-9-7 in Hockey East. Maine’s fifth straight loss left the Black Bears at 7-20-6 and 4-13-2.
The teams will play again Saturday on Seniors Night.
Merrimack scored four unanswered goals to build a 5-1 lead but two power-play goals 1:46 apart by Will Merchant over the final 2:27 of the second period pulled the Black Bears within two and Eric Schurhamer made it 5-4 just 4:46 into the third period.
But Merrimack regained its composure and protected the lead impressively and Ben Bahe scored an empty-net goal thanks to a crazy bounce off the boards in Merrimack’s defensive zone.
“Just what you thought from two offensively-challenged teams: a 6-4 game,” quipped Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy. “We got off to a good start. We did a lot of things we talked about. To Maine’s credit, they pushed back. But we settled in after Maine’s fourth goal. Then we got a fortuitous bounce (on Bahe’s empty netter). These were two huge points for us.”
Hampus Gustafsson’s power-play goal opened the scoring for the Warriors at the 7:01 mark of the first period but Dan Renouf equalized just 1:21 later.
Justin Hussar’s unassisted goal and Marc Biega’s score 4:03 later supplied the Warriors with a well-deserved 3-1 lead.
Maine coach Red Gendron said the game was lost in the first period.
“Our battle level, puck management, goaltending… nothing was sharp at the start,” said an irritated Gendron whose Black Bears were outshot 11-5 in the first period. “There’s no excuse for that. That can’t happen. We had some guys who weren’t skating.
“But you also have to give credit to Merrimack. They played extremely well,” he added.
“That has been the story of our season. We didn’t come out hard,” said alternate captain Merchant.
“You aren’t going to win Hockey East games starting like that and falling behind,” said junior defenseman Renouf.
Brett Seney and Michael Babcock expanded the lead to 5-1 in the middle period.
But Merchant scored his first power-play goal at the 17:33 mark and added his next one with 41 seconds left in the period.
Gustafsson’s game-opening goal came on his open one-timer from the left circle off a Seney pass.
Renouf tied it by maneuvering into a shooting lane at the left point and beating Collin Delia with a screened wrister.
But Hussar broke the tie 4:28 later when he intercepted Danny Perez’s ill-advised cross-ice pass in the high slot and snapped a wrister past Matt Morris’ blocker.
Biega added another goal 4:03 later when he gathered in Mark Hamilton’s clearing attempt off the boards, stickhandled neatly past Steven Swavely and wristed a bullet past Morris’ blocker.
The speedy Seney expanded the lead with a rising wrister over Morris’ glove from the top of the right circle.
Morris was then replaced by Rob McGovern.
Babcock made it 5-1 off a three-on-two rush as he one-timed a Chris LeBlanc rebound past the helpless McGovern.
Merchant began the comeback by sliding a Swavely rebound past Delia from just beyond the crease and he scored again when he jammed Swavely’s pass out from behind the net past Delia’s left skate.
Schurhamer sliced the lead to one with a screened wrister from the point off a Swavely pass.
Merrimack outshot Maine 31-30.