NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. – The Merrimack College Warriors hadn’t beaten the University of Maine Black Bears since Feb. 9, 2002.
But the Warriors’ 17-game futility streak (0-15-2) at the expense of the Black Bears finally came to a resounding end Friday night.
Matt Jones broke a 1-1 tie 6:34 into the third period to trigger a four-goal flurry that gave the Warriors a 5-1 men’s hockey victory that extended Maine’s losing streak to three games and its winless skein to four games (0-3-1).
Maine has scored only four goals in the winless streak.
The teams play again tonight at 7.
Kurtis Astle made it 3-1 just 2:02 after Jones’ goal and the Warriors received insurance goals from Derek Pallardy and Chris Barton.
Maine had won the last seven games between the two.
Merrimack improved to 5-4-1 overall, 2-4-1 in Hockey East. Maine fell to 4-5-1 and 2-3-1, respectively.
“Our guys wanted it more than they did in the third period. We outworked them,” said Merrimack junior goalie Patrick Watson, who finished with 31 saves, including 18 Grade-A (high-percentage) stops.
“The third period was embarrassing…. Four goals on 11 shots,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “We left men unattended in front of the net on three of those goals.”
“We were god-awful in the third period,” concurred Maine senior center and assistant captain Rob Bellamy. “We didn’t protect the front of our net. That’s where their goals came from.”
The teams swapped first-period goals as sophomore center J.C. Robitaille opened the scoring by converting a shorthanded breakaway but Maine senior left wing Billy Ryan equalized 8:48 later.
Merrimack received a lot of momentum from the Robitaille goal but Maine goalie Ben Bishop made several clutch saves to keep the deficit at 1-0.
Maine had the better chances in the second period but this time it was Watson’s turn to frustrate the Bears as he made a terrific save off Bellamy’s point-blank shot off a two-on-one with Billy Ryan and then kicked out a one-timer by Matt Duffy and two subsequent rebound attempts.
“That’s what I’m here for,” said Watson. “The guys did a great job clearing the front of the net most of the time. But Maine’s got a great offensive team [and generated some chances].”
Watson said on Bellamy’s opportunity, his defenseman limited Ryan’s shooting options “so I just had to read Bellamy’s stick.”
Bellamy said Watson made a “great save” but Watson said he actually gloved the puck before Bellamy was able to get his stick on it.
Maine had a 22-15 edge in shots on goal through two periods thanks to a 9-4 edge in the second period but Jones snapped the tie after Bellamy had the puck stripped as he tried to stickhandle out of the defensive zone.
“I should have stopped and started instead of circling [after losing the puck],” said Bellamy.
Joe Loprieno fired the puck on net from the right point and in the ensuing scramble, Jones snapped the puck over Bishop from the low slot for his sixth goal of the season.
“One of their guys was going for the rebound and I went down to make the save but he whiffed on it and it went to another guy,” said Bishop, who noted that he was vulnerable after the first Warrior missed it because he had positioned himself to stop him.
“He was down and I flipped it over him,” said Jones.
Freshman Astle expanded the lead thanks to some exceptional work by Robitaille on the forecheck.
Robitaille gained the puck in the corner to Bishop’s right and spotted the unattended Astle at the far post. Astle had time to stop the puck and wrist it over Bishop’s glove into the short side for his first collegiate goal.
“I’m glad I finally scored,” said Astle.
Bishop was injured and came out of the game with 9:37 remaining.
Dave Wilson replaced him. Bishop made 19 saves and Wilson made two.
“I had muscle spasms in my pelvic area,” said Bishop, who wasn’t sure if he would be back in the lineup tonight.
Pallardy scored off a rebound after Wilson had made the first two stops.
Barton jammed home a Rob Ricci pass on the power play to cap the scoring.
Robitallie opened the scoring by taking a Pallardy pass behind the Maine defense and wristing the puck over the stacked pads of Bishop.
Maine tied it when Jeff Dimmen’s shot from the right point rebounded to the low slot and it was touched by Andrew Sweetland and landed on the stick of Ryan, who snapped it into the short-side corner.
WARRIORS 5, BLACK BEARS 1
Maine (4-5-1) 1 0 0 – 1
Merrimack (5-4-1) 1 0 4 – 5
First period – 1. Mmk, Robitaille 2 (Pallardy, Watson), 9:26 (sh); 2. Maine, Ryan 2 (Bellamy, Dimmen), 18:14. Penalties: Mmk, Bonitatibus, hooking, 8:45.
Second period – No scoring. Penalties: Maine, Tyler, interference, 6:40; Mmk, Loprieno, hooking, 15:29.
Third period – 3. Mmk, Jones 6 (Loprieno, Ricci), 6:34; 4. Mmk, Astle 1 (Robitaille, Loprieno), 8:36; 5. Mmk, Pallardy 2 (DeRosa, Kramer), 12:37; 6. Mmk, Barton 3 (Ricci, Jones), 16:02 (pp). Penalties: Maine, Dimmen, cross-checking, 15:03.
Shots on goal: Maine 13-9-10-32; Merrimack 11-4-11-26
Goaltenders: Maine, Bishop (22 shots-19 saves), Wilson (10:23 of third, 4-2); Merrimack, Watson (32-31)
Power-play opportunities: Maine 0 of 2; Merrimack 1 of 2
High-percentage scoring chances: Maine 7-8-7-22; Merrimack 8-4-10-22