ORONO — Rebecca Sullivan is a professional jazz vocalist based out of Chicago whose younger brother tends goal for the University of Maine hockey team.
Sullivan lent her pipes to the proceedings inside Alfond Arena on Sunday afternoon, singing the national anthem before the Black Bears took on No. 10 New Hampshire in an attempt to stave off their worst start in Hockey East since the league began in 1984.
Alas, the Black Bears are still singing the blues after a 4-0 loss before a crowd of 4,659 left them winless after four games in Hockey East and 1-8 overall. Maine’s 1985-86 squad opened 0-3 before beating New Hampshire 7-3 on the way to an 8-25-1 conference record.
The Black Bears have been shut out four times this year and have managed only six goals in their eight losses. Against No. 9 New Hampshire, they committed 11 penalties and fell behind 1-0 in the game’s third minute, moments after a 5-on-3 power play drew to a close.
“Anytime we play UNH it’s always a hard-hitting game, and it certainly was that,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “But we couldn’t find a balance between the physical game and staying out of the penalty box.”
Austin Block scored twice for New Hampshire (5-1-1 overall, 3-1-1 Hockey East). Eric Knodel and Greg Burke each added a goal.
Dan Sullivan, Rebecca’s younger brother, set a career record with 41 saves.
“I thought Sully played well, that he gave us a chance to win,” said Maine senior defenseman Mike Cornell. “He made some big saves.”
Maine’s frustration boiled over in the third period, leading to a few skirmishes, game misconduct penalties for Maine freshman Ryan Lomberg and New Hampshire sophomore Matt Willows, and elbowing penalties to Cornell and sophomore Andrew Cerretani, a New Hampshire native who is a Maine sophomore.
“We’re not too pleased with the way things turned out, especially against those guys,” Cornell said of the Wildcats. “We don’t like them and they don’t like us.”
New Hampshire sophomore Casey DeSmith earned his second shutout of the season, registering 42 saves.
“The box score might be deceptive,” Cornell said. “Yeah, we had 42 shots but I don’t think they were scrambling around as much as we were. … A lot of ours were from the perimeter or just thrown in and hoping for the best.”
The result, while not unexpected given New Hampshire’s lofty ranking, came on the heels of a solid performance Friday night against No. 1 Boston College, a 4-2 loss that was tied entering the third period.
“I thought we were two different teams Friday night and (Sunday),” Cornell said. “We’re the same 20 guys, but it’s the mindset. We’ve got to find a way to be confident and be more consistent.”
Maine’s best scoring chance came late in the first period when defenseman Nick Pryor hit the right post with a shot from the top of the left circle. A minute later, the Black Bears enjoyed their first of five power plays — all of them scoreless, which makes them 1-for-44 this season — only to have New Hampshire score a breakaway goal as the penalty expired.
New Hampshire’s Eric Knodel left the box, took an immediate pass from Casey Thrush, and skated in alone on Sullivan. Instead of trying to deke the goalie, Knodel uncorked a slapshot to Sullivan’s stick side and it was 2-0.
Block scored again late in the second period to make it 3-0, slamming home a rebound seconds after a Maine penalty expired but before Brice O’Connor (slashing) could join the fray.
Burke added the final goal midway through the third period after a Maine defenseman blocked his initial shot. After the handshake line, UNH coach Dick Umile put his arm around Whitehead’s shoulder.
“I just told him I’m with him,” Umile said. “It’s tough. I’ve been there. Last year we got off to a slow start. … He’s a great coach and this is a good team. He’ll put it together.”
Injuries, graduation and the lure of professional hockey took a big chunk out of the Maine team that reached the NCAA tournament last spring. Nine new players are still learning their roles.
“It’s going to take a lot of effort, but I think the guys are up for the challenge,” Cornell said. “We’ve got to turn this thing around somehow.”
Maine returns to action next weekend with a pair of games in Massachusetts against UMass-Lowell.