Maine had just finished its most dominating performance of the season Friday when Coach Red Gendron was asked if he was concerned about his men’s hockey team maintaining its focus for one more night.
A rematch with American International loomed, then a holiday break beckoned for his young Black Bears.
Gendron had praised his players at length for their preparation and drive. But yes, he was worried about how they would respond to a blowout victory.
His fears were realized, although Maine summoned enough energy to hold off the Yellow Jackets 5-1 Saturday at Alfond Arena. But it was nowhere near the take-no-prisoners approach that had netted a 7-1 victory Friday.
“They know that they have to show up, that AIC is a very good team. They have weapons,” Gendron said Friday. “I think they understand the gravity of it. We won’t talk about winning and losing the game. We’ll look at film and we’ll show them some clips and we’ll talk about getting better (Saturday) night. If we can get better, play better, play more effectively and play with the same energy. The energy is a choice; effort is a choice; compete level is a choice. So that’s pretty easy.
“So if we can combine that with playing better, not having puck-management issues when we turn the puck over, or shooting more pucks low so we create the rebound opportunities, then I think we’re in good shape.”
It was much easier said than done for Maine (9-6-1), which watched American International score 31 seconds into the game against senior goaltender Dan Sullivan, making his first appearance this season for Maine.
Blaine Byron got the equalizer at 2:09 of the first period, but the game slogged on with the Black Bears unable to assert their dominance against a Yellow Jackets squad on an eight-game losing streak and last in the nation by allowing 5.1 goals per contest. The passing was lackluster and the Black Bears’ top line, which had been so impressive Friday, was not a factor on Saturday.
Midway through the second period, Sullivan stopped the Yellow Jackets’ Chris Porter at point-blank range. That seemed to awaken Maine, which got terrific play from its second line and belatedly took over the game.
Stu Higgins scored on a rebound to put Maine ahead, then linemate Ryan Lomberg backhanded the puck past American International goaltender Ryan Kerpan for a 3-1 advantage.
Brian Morgan and Lomberg added third-period goals, and Maine was able to head into a two-week hiatus not having to pay dearly for its lesson about taking opponents lightly.
“Our goal (Saturday) is to keep the pace,” Maine defenseman Dan Renouf said Friday after his team racked up an incredible 59 shots on goal. “We want to improve every night, that’s the motto at Maine.”
It’s a fine motto, but for half of a game Saturday, it looked as if the Black Bears had abandoned it. Fortunately for Maine, against a 3-12 opponent like American International, there was plenty of time to recover.
Mark Emmert can be reached at 791-6424 or at: