ORONO — The standings reveal that Merrimack is in last place in Hockey East.
But the reality is that the Warriors will test your resolve and your patience, as the Maine men’s hockey team discovered Friday.
The Black Bears emerged with a 2-1 victory before an announced crowd of 3,638 at Alfond Arena. But it took a lot of stick-to-itiveness, two gritty goals from Ryan Lomberg and another solid performance from goaltender Martin Ouellette.
“When you win a game against them, you earn it,” Maine Coach Red Gendron said. “They play physical. They don’t give you anything. They challenge everything.”
It was a needed win for a Black Bears team that entered play tied for fourth in the league. And it easily could have swung the other way.
Gendron, with his team on its heels and repeatedly icing the puck at the outset of the second period, had to call his timeout to give the players a rest and a stern message.
“We were turning the puck over, not playing as smart as we needed to. They’re a pretty good grinding team. They work hard and they can possess the puck,” Gendron said.
“You want to be solid, make them have to come 200 feet. I don’t think even they would describe themselves as a rush team, you know, a team that scores on the initial attack.”
Indeed, Merrimack (7-17-3, 2-11-2 Hockey East) is last in the league with 20 goals in 15 conference games. Once Maine determined not to let the Warriors park in its zone, its fortunes turned.
Lomberg scored his second goal at 11:26 of the second period, picking up the puck in heavy traffic out front after Mark Anthoine had rushed to the net and had his initial shot blocked by Warrior goaltender Rasmus Tirronen.
Lomberg’s shot slid through several skates and into the net for the game-winner.
His first goal was also off a rebound of a Devin Shore shot.
“Just going to the net with my stick on the ice,” Lomberg said.
“Me and Anthoine drove the net. The big boy Anthoine is, no one could really move him from out front, and he was banging away and luckily I was there again. The puck popped right out and I slid it home.”
Lomberg now has 10 goals.
Merrimack Coach Mark Dennehy wished his team would have made similar attempts. He said his forwards seemed hesitant to try to create scoring opportunities, and pointed to the winning goal as an example his players need to emulate.
“Pucks and bodies,” Dennehy said.
“Think about the goals that were scored today. Anthoine takes it to the net, and takes it right to the paint, and it’s three yards and a pile of dust.”
Ouellette made 23 saves to earn the victory, including some key ones in a second period that Merrimack mainly controlled. In the third period, the Black Bears (14-10-3, 8-5-2) were disciplined enough to keep Merrimack away from the net without searching for their own offense.
The result was a third victory in four games, with a rematch against Merrimack at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Mark Emmert can be contacted at 791-6424 or at: