Men’s Hockey: Northeastern beats Maine on road

Men’s Hockey: Northeastern beats Maine on road

By Matt Nielsen

The men’s hockey team (9-12-4, 6-10-4) split a two-game series with the University of Maine (16-7-2, 9-7-1) this weekend, blowing out the host Black Bears 6-1 Friday night before being topped Saturday night 2-1 in overtime at Alfond Arena. The Huskies’ win Friday night was their first in Orono since Feb. 5, 1998.

“It’s definitely an intense atmosphere,” said sophomore assistant captain Joe Vitale. “The entire student section is full during warm-ups, the fans yell and swear at you, and if a puck goes up into their section you hear them chanting ‘Throw it back!’ They’re a great team with great fan support, so it can be intimidating.”

But Northeastern went into Friday night’s game with confidence, having completed a home-and-home sweep of UMass-Lowell last weekend and having earned at least a point in six of their last seven contests. The Huskies came out firing in the first, out-shooting Maine 12-7. Still, NU trailed 1-0 at intermission after senior forward Michel Leveille’s 13th goal of the season.

One minute into the second, freshman forward Chad Costello gave the puck to Vitale, who took a shot from left circle. Maine sophomore goalie Ben Bishop stopped a shot, but the rebound went to sophomore defenseman Jacques Perreault who beat Bishop for his first collegiate goal.

The Huskies took the lead a few minutes later when Costello, who was named Hockey East Rookie of the Week, scored his ninth goal of the season on a redirection of freshman forward Kyle Kraemer’s shot.

“It took us a little while to get going, but we got some lucky bounces in the second and really got it going,” said freshman goaltender Brad Thiessen, who stopped 29 of 30 shots on the evening for the win.

The Huskies added a third goal in the period when senior defenseman Steve Birnstill intercepted a pass at center ice and fed freshman forward Greg Costa, who scored the first goal of his collegiate career. It was Birnstill’s second assist of the contest.

“We went into the game with a game plan and executed it,” Vitale said. “Our team really played as a whole.”

In the third period, Northeastern poured it on and put the game away. Three minutes in, senior forward Mike Morris intercepted a pass and beat Bishop on a breakaway for his seventh goal of the year, making it 4-1.

Freshman forward Randy Guzior scored his sixth goal of the season halfway through the period off a rebounded shot from freshman defenseman Jim Driscoll. Finally, Costa picked up his second goal of the game at 12:16 with an assist from junior forward Jimmy Russo.

Perhaps the most impressive part of the dominating win was Northeastern’s power play unit. After struggling for most of the season with a man advantage, the Huskies scored two power play goals on five attempts Friday and Costello and Guzior improved their power play percentage to 11.9, which ranks them seventh in the Hockey East.

The two teams played at the same venue the next night, and this time Northeastern got on the board first.

Near the end of the first period, Birnstill passed the puck to Kraemer who knocked Bishop off his feet. Kraemer dropped the puck to Costello, who scored his second goal of the weekend to put NU up, 1-0.

The second period was all Maine. The Black Bears outshot the Huskies 17-4 in the period and broke through at 18:41 with a power play goal from junior forward Billy Ryan, who tied it, 1-1. Neither team could best the other in the third, and the game went into overtime.

“Going into the game, we knew it was going to be an all-out battle,” Vitale said. “We embarrassed them on their home ice the night before, and they knew it was a do or die game for them.”

With less than a minute left in the extra period, Maine closed the deal with a goal from freshman forward Ted Purcell, his 13th of the year.

“It leaves a bad taste in your mouth,” Thiessen said. “We were 45 seconds away from taking three points from a good team this weekend.”

The Huskies were outshot 33-17 Saturday night, playing much of the game shorthanded. NU’s penalty kill was solid again, foiling six Maine power plays before Ryan’s goal at the end of the second period.

Thiessen stopped 31 of 33 shots, continuing his hot play of late. Thiessen’s combined 60 saves on the weekend earned him a Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week nod, his third of the season.

The Huskies remain in seventh place in the Hockey East going into Friday’s match-up against Merrimack at Matthews Arena at 7:30 p.m. The game will be broadcast on NESN.

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