ORONO – University of Maine junior Matt Duffy says he is “still learning” how to be a forward after spending his entire career as a defenseman.
He must be a quick study.
Left winger Duffy scored three goals for his first collegiate hat trick Saturday night as the Black Bears snapped a six-game winless streak (0-4-2) with a 3-1 triumph over Merrimack College.
Maine improved to 5-6-2 overall, 3-4-2 in Hockey East, while the Warriors fell to 6-7-2, 3-7-1, respectively. Merrimack is 0-3-1 in its last four games.
“This is a huge monkey off our backs,” said junior right wing Jeff Marshall, who assisted on Duffy’s first two goals as did the other member of their line, senior center Wes Clark.
Duffy broke a scoreless tie 4:03 into the second period, supplying Maine with its first lead in a game since a 4-3 win over Northeastern on Oct. 27 and added his second at the 9:18 mark of the third period before answering a late Francois Ouimet goal (18:06) with an empty-netter off a Rob Bellamy pass.
Duffy has four goals in his four games as a winger, all coming against Merrimack.
“I’m just happy to contribute to the team,” said Duffy, a native of Windham. “I’m trying to be as aggressive as possible. As the third forward, I’m also trying to help the defenseman out.”
Duffy couldn’t remember when he registered his last hat trick but figured it was in his youth hockey days.
His first two goals came off rebounds.
The opening score came off a scramble created by a shot from the point from Simon Danis-Pepin.
“It hit [Clark] in the upper body and he shoveled it over to me as he fell down,” said Marshall. “I took a whack at it and it hit the goalie [Patrick Watson] and trickled over to Duffy.”
Duffy calmly deposited it behind the helpless Watson, who tried desperately to get across his goal crease.
“I made sure I put it in. I knew I had plenty of time,” said Duffy, who scored moments after junior goalie Ben Bishop had made a couple of rapid-fire point-blank saves during a wild flurry in front of his net.
“That was a turning point for us,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead.
“[Bishop] made some key saves for them,” said Watson.
In the third period, Marshall dug a puck out behind the net and fed it out to an unattended Clark in the middle of the low slot.
Watson made a nice save on Clark’s one-timer but it bounced off his chest over to Duffy, who backhanded into the half-empty net.
Ouimet made things interesting when Justin Bonitatibus and Bobby Kramer set him up in front and he one-timed a 20-footer over Bishop’s glove.
But the Bears hung on and Duffy sewed it up with 22 seconds left after Bellamy took a pass from Tanner House, skated into the offensive zone and fed it across to him in front of the empty net.
House was playing in his first game since serving a six-game suspension and he teamed up with linemates Bellamy and Glenn Belmore to keep Merrimack’s high-powered line of Chris Barton, Rob Ricci and Matt Jones off the scoreboard.
The Ricci line had four goals and four assists in a 5-1, 2-1 sweep of Maine on Nov. 16-17.
Both goalies were sharp.
Bishop rebounded nicely from a sub-par 17-save performance in a 5-5 tie against Vermont by making 26 saves including nine Grade-A (high-percentage) stops.
Watson had 22 saves including 12 Grade-A’s.
“I felt good out there. I had to be more aggressive. I was too far back in my net [against Vermont]. And I had to stay big,” said the 6-foot-7 Bishop.
Larry Mahoney may be reached at email@example.com or 990-8231.
BLACK BEARS 3, WARRIORS 1
Merrimack (6-7-2) 0 0 1 – 1
Maine (5-6-2) 0 1 2 – 3
First period – No scoring.Penalties: Mmk, Ricci, hooking, :26; Mmk, Bonitatibus, tripping, 9:35.
Second period – 1. Maine, Duffy 2 (Marshall, Clark), 4:03. Penalties: Mmk, Ricci, hooking, 4:47; Maine, Danis-Pepin, interference, 15:12.
Third period – 2. Maine, Duffy 3 (Clark, Marshall), 9:18; 3. Mmk, Ouimet 3 (Bonitatibus, Kramer), 18:06; 4. Maine, Duffy 4 (Bellamy, House), 19:38 (en). Penalties: Maine, Duffy, hooking, 2:38.
Shots on goal: Merrimack 4-10-13-27; Maine 8-4-13-25
Goaltenders: Mmk, Watson (24 shots-22 saves); Maine, Bishop (27-26)
Power-play opportunities: Mmk 0-2, Maine 0-3
High-percentage scoring chances: Merrimack 1-3-8-12; Maine 5-5-8-18
. Maine snapped a six-game winless streak (0-4-2).
. Maine had its first lead in a game since a 4-3 win over Northeastern on Oct. 27.
. Maine’s Matt Duffy has four goals in his four games as a winger, all coming against Merrimack.