December 9, 2013

UMaine hockey: Black Bears end UMass-Lowell’s streak

Blaine Byron breaks a late tie as Maine wins 4-2.

By Mark Emmert memmert@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

ORONO — Score one for the fourth-line freshmen.

Actually, score two.

Maine’s youngest trio of forwards foiled the nation’s top goaltender twice Sunday to spark a 4-2 victory over Massachusetts-Lowell in men’s Hockey East before an announced crowd of 3,182 at Alfond Arena.

“They’re listed on the sheet as a fourth line, but that’s just a sheet,” Maine Coach Red Gendron said. “They get the puck and they go down to the other end and they do stuff. So what that says to me, I scratch my head on the bench and I go, ‘Maybe I should put them out there again.’ ”

Gendron put Cam Brown, Blaine Byron and Brian Morgan on the ice at crucial moments, and was rewarded with a pair of power-play goals, including Byron’s game-winner at the 16:27 mark of the third period. His slapshot from the left circle thudded into Lowell goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, then trickled behind him for an agonizing moment before crossing the goal line to break a 2-2 tie.

“I saw a lane to the net and I just saw there was a bit of traffic there and I thought I’d just get a shot on net and hope for the best,” Byron said of his fifth and most important goal of the season.

“I saw it trickling and everyone kind of watching and it was able to find a way to get in.”

Maine (7-6-1, 4-2-1 Hockey East) snapped seventh-ranked Lowell’s six-game winning streak.

The River Hawks (11-5, 4-2) entered play leading the nation by allowing just 1.73 goals per game. Hellebuyck’s 1.57 goals-against average and .951 save percentage also were the best in Division I hockey.

But it took Maine center Brown just 6 minutes to put a little dent in that facade. Brown whistled a slapshot from just above the right circle past Hellebuyck 5:52 into the game for a 1-0 lead. Gendron called it a “laser,” and it seemed to be perfectly placed, sailing just above Hellebuyck’s glove.

But Brown, who had plenty of time to line up the shot, said that was mere coincidence.

“I just threw it on net, like a half-slapshot. And there was some traffic in front so it went in,” he said.

“We can say that (the shot went precisely where he intended it to) but I don’t think so. I just kind of try to get it there, you know?”

Ben Hutton scored a power-play goal from close range to give Maine a 2-0 lead in the first period.

Then Lowell patiently worked its way back into the contest, knotting it late in the second period. Black Bear goaltender Martin Ouellette kept his team from falling behind with several key saves early in the third, including an acrobatic dive to get a pad on a Josh Holmstrom attempt from point-blank range.

And then the Black Bears, who have won seven of eight at home, waited for their freshmen to come through again.

“We’re all excited to be here,” Byron said.

“We just try to play really fast hockey and keep it simple. Do the little things right and use our speed, and I think that’s been working for us.”

Brown’s line represents just three of the six freshmen logging minutes for Maine this season. He said they weren’t sure how much playing time to anticpate coming into their Division I debuts, but they are thrilled to be called upon to contribute.

“You don’t want to overexpect it, but you want to have the confidence that you think you can do it,” Brown said.

Mark Emmert can be reached at 791-6424 or:

memmert@pressherald.com

Twitter: MarkEmmertPPH

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