PORTLAND – They won in Missouri, Massachusetts and Florida.
But not until Friday night, in the fourth month of their season, did the University of Maine Black Bears figure out a way to win in their home state.
Freshman Ryan Lomberg’s power-play goal with a little more than six minutes remaining capped a comeback as Maine beat Mercyhurst 2-1 in men’s hockey before a crowd of 4,650 at the Cumberland County Civic Center.
“Things are just starting to go our way,” said Lomberg, who has scored in three straight games after completing a three-game suspension for a violation of team rules. “We’re getting the bounces we need to win games. We’re just doing whatever it takes.”
Maine (5-11-2 overall, 1-7-2 Hockey East) has won three in a row, its best stretch of the season. The two teams now move on to Orono for a Saturday night rematch at Alfond Arena, where the Black Bears are 0-6-2.
The trip to Portland came during a time when the Orono campus is empty of students. The Black Bears traveled downstate Thursday morning, held a practice in Portland Thursday afternoon, then put on a youth clinic and a Skate with the Bears event in Falmouth Thursday night.
“It was a good crowd (Friday) night, a lot more than we expected,” said senior center Kyle Beattie, who set up Lomberg for the game-winner. “There’s a lot of Maine fans in the southern Maine area that might not get a chance to see us up in Orono all the time, so it’s fun to get down here and play for them.”
Although Maine held a 37-26 advantage in shots on goal, it was Mercyhurst (8-7-1 overall, 7-3-0 Atlantic Hockey) jumping in front early, taking a 1-0 lead on the first of two penalties incurred by Maine for having too many skaters on the ice. Paul Chiasson tipped a Nick Jones wrist shot from the point past screened Maine goalie Martin Ouellette in the game’s fourth minute.
That was all Ouellette allowed, however, as he finished with 25 saves, including a glove save at the final buzzer as Mercyhurst emptied its net for an extra attacker.
“He had some absolute game-savers for us,” Beattie said of Ouellette. “It feels good that we can finally win some games for him.”
No stop was bigger than a dramatic kick save against Mercyhurst’s Nardo Nagtzaam, who had gathered in a rebound with a little more than nine minutes remaining and the game tied at 1.
“It came right to me, I saw empty net and I shot it as hard as I can,” said Nagtzaam, who is from the Netherlands. “He slides over and made a toe save. I even told him after the game, ‘Great save.’ “
Lakers goalie Jordan Tibbet was also impressive, finishing with 35 saves and thwarting several good opportunities for Maine in the third.
The Black Bears had tied the game, 1-1, six minutes after falling behind in the first period. Freshman Steven Swavely won a draw back to Joey Diamond, who had missed both Florida tournament games last week with a back injury.
Diamond one-timed a shot inside the right post for his fourth goal of the season. The score remained tied through a scoreless second period that saw Mercyhurst’s Chiasson hit the crossbar with a shot. Another potential goal was disallowed because a Mercyhurst player ran into Ouellette, forcing the puck into the net.
“They’re a well-balanced team and well-coached,” said Maine Coach Tim Whitehead. “So we knew we were going to have our hands full, and we did. We figured it would come down to the last whistle, and it did.”
Afterward, Diamond told Whitehead that was a game the Black Bears would have lost or tied earlier in the season.
“We’re learning how to win now,” Whitehead said.
“We’re not where we need to be yet, but it shows a lot of progress when you can not be at your very best and still win.”
NOTES: Conor Riley, Klas Leidermark and Brice O’Connor did not play. The first two are recovering from concussions while O’Connor has a shoulder injury.
The Black Bears have lost 64 man-games due to injury this season, compared to only five last season. The year before, however, it was in excess of 100.
Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: