ORONO — Martin Ouellette made 29 saves for his fourth shutout of the season as the University of Maine extended its men’s hockey season Saturday night with a 2-0 victory over Merrimack before a crowd of 3,678 at Alfond Arena.
The victory sends the Black Bears (16-13-4), who finished sixth in Hockey East, into a best-of-three quarterfinal series next weekend at Providence. The Friars haven’t played since sweeping a two-game set in Orono last weekend.
An errant Devin Shore pass in the final minute gave Merrimack (8-22-3) an opportunity to tie, but Ouellette denied Brian Christie from the low slot. Moments later, Shore won a race to the opposite net and tapped in an empty-net goal for the clincher with 20 seconds left.
The Black Bears took a 1-0 lead with the game barely two minutes old. Andrew Cerratani, at the blue line, thwarted an attempted Merrimack breakout and sent the puck to Steven Swavely, who dropped it to a closely followed Mark Anthoine in the slot. As he was falling, Anthoine managed a backhand flip over Merrimack goalie Rasmus Tirronen.
Shortly thereafter, the Black Bears had chances on two power plays to increase their lead but failed to convert. Momentum swung to Merrimack late in the period, as the Warriors enjoyed a nearly five-minute stretch with a man advantage, including nearly half a minute of a delayed call just as a Cam Brown hooking penalty was expiring, allowing Tirronen to leave the ice for an extra attacker.
Through it all, Ouellette, who had been pulled from the Maine goal in the second period of last Saturday’s 3-2 loss to Providence in favor of fellow senior Dan Sullivan, protected the lead. Ouellette stopped 17 shots in the first two periods as the Black Bears killed off five Merrimack power plays.
Brian Morgan and Cam Leen each had good chances in the second period denied by Tirronen, who entered the third with 20 saves and finished with 33.
This marked the third meeting of the season between Merrimack and Maine, which won a pair of one-goal games last month at the Alfond, 2-1 and 3-2.
After that, the Black Bears went on a four-game winless streak to end the regular season, with a tie preceding three losses.
Merrimack had lost eight of its previous nine games but brought three bus loads of supporters to Orono, including a pep band. With the Maine campus on spring break, the notoriously raucous student section at Alfond was half empty and lacking its usual energy.
With Ouellette in net, however, it didn’t matter.