ORONO — It sure felt like a new vibe for the Maine men’s hockey team Friday.

Conor Riley scored his first goal after 86 games without. Fearless freshman Nolan Vesey netted his third in the past five games. And the Black Bears did something they hadn’t done before the calendar turned to 2015 – they played a dominant third period.

The result was a 4-1 win over Canisius before an announced crowd of 3,559 at Alfond Arena.

“I think the break was really good for us,” Riley said of his team’s three-week hiatus after a 7-4 loss to New Hampshire. “It was noticeable that when we went home it looked like a lot of guys put in work, got on the ice, did our workouts. Because we came back and our first practice was strong. So I think that was the start, where everyone was like, ‘new start.’ “

Maine, which had coughed up four third-period leads this season, improved to 5-13-1 thanks to strong performances throughout the roster.

Riley, a junior defenseman, got things started just 4:55 into the game when his wrist shot from right point went through a screening Brian Morgan and over the right blocker of goalie Keegan Asmundson. Riley had missed the New Hampshire loss with a shoulder injury and didn’t know he would be able to play Friday until late in the week. He responded with four shots on goal and his first to finally settle into the back of the net.

“It took a little longer than I’d like. It felt good to get the first one, but it felt better to get the win, for sure,” Riley said.

“(Scoring is) not really my role, but I kind of put it in the back of mind and said, ‘Hopefully, one of them will go in.’ “

Canisius (6-7-5) tied the score midway through the first period. But Maine was slowly building momentum despite no power plays until the third period.

Vesey speeded up the process with a terrific individual play at 13:01 of the second period. He pounced on a mishandled puck at his blue line, then was redirected by a diving Canisius defenseman. Forced to the left boards, Vesey never gave up on his breakaway attempt, veering in from a sharp angle to backhand the puck through Asmundson’s legs while falling to the ice.

“I was going to cut in and either pass to (Liam) Pecararo, or I could bring it all the way to my backhand. I ended up like falling and just throwing it on net,” Vesey said. “It just went five-hole. Kind of surprised me a little bit.”

It didn’t surprise his coach, Red Gendron, who praised Vesey for his moxie.

“Sometimes what players will do is they’ll flip a little shot from the side of the net and they’ll go for a skate behind the net,” Gendron said. “He took it across in front of the net. He was stumbling, but he was in a position to power the puck into the net. Nolan Vesey made the right play by taking the puck to the net hard. And when you take it across the front of the net like that, there’s a risk that somebody on the other team will attempt to decapitate you.”

That left Maine with a one-goal lead heading into the third period, a precarious position for the team in the first half of the season.

But on Friday, the Black Bears fired 15 shots on net in the third period, getting a rebound goal from Malcolm Hayes for some insurance and an empty-netter from Devin Shore for good measure. Goalie Sean Romeo came up with big saves when he needed to, stopping 28 of 29 shots to run his record to 3-9.

“Maine was scrappy tonight with their sticks on pucks and just whacking pucks away,” Canisius Coach Dave Smith said. “Maine had to play with a lot of energy and earn the win.”

It’s only a turning point if the Black Bears keep winning, of course. But Gendron was satisfied with what he witnessed as a new year dawned.

“We got stronger as the game went on, and that’s a positive,” he said.

Canisius falls to 0-8-2 all-time against Hockey East competition, and will get another chance to snap that skid Saturday.

Mark Emmert can be contacted at 791-6424 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MarkEmmertPPH

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