DURHAM, N.H. — Thundersticks in the crowd and lightning-quick goals on the ice.
The Maine men’s hockey team let down its guard just enough Friday night in the raucous Whittemore Center and fell 3-2 to New Hampshire.
It was another hard-fought but ultimately fruitless trip for the Black Bears, who have yet to win as a visiting team this season.
New Hampshire (14-12-1, 6-5 Hockey East) scored in each period, each time capitalizing on a defensive lapse and revving up its 6,501 white-clad fans.
The pivotal goal may have been defenseman Eric Knodel’s blast from the blue line to put the Wildcats ahead 2-1 in the second period. It eluded Maine goaltender Martin Ouellette, who wasn’t nearly as sharp as he usually is. But Maine Coach Red Gendron said the blame extended further.
“We had a forward come back instead of stop in the slot. They circled. Knodel got a shot,” Gendron said. “We had a forward in the neighborhood who chose not to go down on one knee and get big low to block the shot. Those are the facts of the game. It’s all those little micro-moments. You either do it or you don’t do it.
“And if you don’t do it and you lose, that’s why.”
The Wildcats scored 47 seconds into the game after Ouellette bit on a fake and wound up out of position. But No. 20 Maine (11-9-3, 5-4-2) answered 1:59 later when Will Merchant scored his first goal of the season on a wrist shot.
“The bigger rink, with my speed, I kind of like that. I like to be able to move around,” said Merchant, a sophomore forward.
“We knew we were not in trouble at that point. It was early. It was a good shot from (Josh) Henke at the point, kind of got jumbled up, and I got it, shot it and it went in.”
It was a rare accurate shot for Maine in the early going.
The Black Bears continually missed the net on quality opportunities and wouldn’t score again until less than a minute remained.
By that time Maine trailed 3-1 and had pulled Ouellette. With everyone flailing at the puck out front, Mark Anthoine ultimately got it and batted it into the far side of the net with 54.7 seconds remaining.
Maine got another good scoring chance but couldn’t convert.
It was the 116th meeting between the fierce rivals and Maine now owns a 59-51-6 edge. They won’t have to wait long for the rematch. It’s at 7 p.m. Saturday in Orono.
Maine is 9-1 at home this season, and Anthoine has an idea of what needs to change for the Black Bears to turn the tables on New Hampshire.
“Just sticking to the systems for 60 minutes,” he said. “If you’ve got guys out of position here and there with a quick team that’s sitting back and looking for turnovers, it’s going to hurt you.”
Maine then returns to the road with a trip to Notre Dame on Feb. 7-8. The team is tired of hearing about its struggles away from Orono, but the narrative will remain until the Black Bears prove they can win as visitors.
Anthoine had a sly answer for that, too.
“All I can say is good things take time, and I’d rather be blooming when the time is right than too early,” he said.
When will that time be?
“I guess everyone’s going to have to wait to find out,” Anthoine said.
“Because I have confidence in our team and I know good things are going to come. We’re on the brink.”
Mark Emmert can be contacted at 791-6424 or at: