ORONO — Connecticut goaltender Rob Nichols made a career high in saves Friday, and if you need to ask who the victim was, then you haven’t been following the Maine men’s hockey team this season.

The Black Bears skated off the ice with a yellow “44” mocking them from the scoreboard. That’s how many shots they fired at Nichols, who stopped them all in a 1-0 victory before an announced crowd of 3,215 at Alfond Arena.

It was the seventh time this season that Maine has been shutout. It was the eighth career shutout for Nichols, a junior. And it was the first time in the history of a program that dates to 1960 that the Huskies had recorded back-to-back shutouts, after a 3-0 blanking of Arizona State, a first-year program.

“We know we’ve played a lot of good games this year and been on the wrong end of things,” Maine Coach Red Gendron said. “Full marks to Connecticut, they won the game.” The Huskies (8-13-1, 4-7-1 Hockey East) got a goal from Shawn Pauly 6:24 into the game and then ceded control to Maine for the duration. That was a winning strategy only because of Nichols, and because the Black Bears have shown an alarming propensity for not being able to finish plays.

In the second period, the Black Bears (5-13-4, 2-6-1) fired 21 shots at Nichols, 11 of them on two power-play opportunities. Not only did he kick away all of those, but Nichols got fortunate on Maine’s best opportunity of the night, when freshman winger Brendan Robbins somehow missed an open net with a backhanded shot.

Robbins, who also generated two breakaway opportunities, seemed to rush the shot after Blaine Byron found him alone at the left side of the crease.

“I didn’t see that guy coming,” Nichols said of Robbins. “I thought (Byron) was going to shoot it and I kind of bit on that and the guy made a good play. Sometimes when you have too much time and space, you kind of grip your stick, I guess, a little too tight, and we got a lucky bounce there.”

It was the only luck Nichols needed. He limited Maine’s rebound opportunities to control his defensive zone throughout.

“I thought our goaltender stole us a game tonight,” Connecticut Coach Mike Cavanaugh said. “I thought they were beating us to pucks. They were pretty much controlling the play and our goaltender was very good.”

Maine center Steven Swavely, who had a game-high eight shots, praised his team’s effort.

“Five shots in, we said ‘One’s going in,’ ” he said.

“You can always get more guys to the net, you can always get more traffic in front, you can always get more shots on net. But it was an encouraging game for us. We’re not hanging our heads. I feel like we played well and it’s something that we can take in to (Saturday).”

That’s when the teams meet again at 7 p.m. The Black Bears’ recent trend is to play poorly in the second game of back-to-backs. Gendron warned his players after Friday’s loss that they would have to play even better in the rematch.

“I don’t know if it’s frustrating,” he said of watching his team outwork an opponent and get nothing to show for it. “I just want to see them rewarded when they play that hard.”

 


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