ORONO – A hockey season that began in October will reach at least into February before the University of Maine tastes victory on its home ice.

The Black Bears fell 3-2 to Merrimack in Hockey East action before a crowd of 4,067 on Saturday night to extend a frustrating streak of 11 winless games at Alfond Arena.

Maine (5-14-4, 1-9-4 Hockey East) and Merrimack (9-9-5, 7-5-2) faced each other for the third time in eight days, and the Warriors came away with five points, sandwiching a Friday tie between Saturday night wins in Maine and Massachusetts.

They never trailed at any point in the series.

“They’re a lot better team than their record indicates,” said Rhett Bly, whose third-period goal gave Merrimack a 3-1 lead. “I know they haven’t won here but they do make it tough. They play a lot harder here. For those Maine fans who are concerned, I think there is a bright future for the players they have.”

The present remains a problem for the Black Bears, who are 0-8-3 at Alfond and in last place in Hockey East.

Connor Leen’s goal late in the third pulled Maine within 3-2, but the Black Bears were forced to kill off a penalty in the final three minutes and couldn’t score again. They went 0 for 7 on the power play.

“We fought hard,” Leen said. “We just didn’t play good enough to win.”

Joey Diamond intercepted a cross-ice pass late in the second period and broke in for a short-handed goal to pull Maine within 2-1 heading into the third.

“We just have to keep getting pucks to the net and chipping away at it,” Diamond said.

Merrimack took a 1-0 lead in a first period that included seven penalties. The last two sent two Black Bears to the box. The five-on-three advantage in skaters, coupled with the fact that Steven Swavely lost his stick, allowed the Warriors to creep ever closer to net. After a succession of passes, Kyle Bigos uncorked a slap shot from inside the left circle and Maine goalie Martin Ouellette had no time to react before it was by him.

It marked the fourth straight game Maine failed to score in the opening period. Freshman Devin Shore hit the near post on an early power play. Otherwise, opportunities were few.

The Warriors made it 2-0 in the opening minute of the second. Jordan Heywood worked a perfect give-and-go with Collins, one-timing in the return pass.

Diamond made it 2-1 short-handed, sliding on his belly as he followed through with a successful shot inside the left post.

“We’re obviously disappointed with the result, but the guys fought hard,” said Maine Coach Tim Whitehead. “We just have to keep working hard, and try to scratch and claw our way back into this race.”

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

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