ORONO — The Maine hockey team fell behind early, fell down late, and let a struggling Merrimack squad skate out of Alfond Arena with a 6-4 victory Friday.

The Warriors, winners of just one of their past 14 games, made the Black Bears look foolish while building a 5-1 lead late in the second period. Maine rallied to get within a goal, then handed Merrimack the empty-net score that clinched the win when Rob Michel whiffed on a puck inside the Warriors’ blue line and Dan Renouf fell down while trying to abruptly shift direction to retrieve it.

Instead, Merrimack’s Ben Bahe tracked it down and tucked it home in a sequence that was agonizing for the 4,012 fans in attendance, but strangely symbolic of Maine’s season.

Still, everyone in the Black Bears’ locker room knew the game was really lost at the outset, when the Warriors (9-15-7, 3-9-7 Hockey East) simply outworked and outskated their hosts.

“Whether it was our battle level, our puck management, our goaltending, nothing was sharp to start the game and that can’t be allowed to happen,” Maine Coach Red Gendron said. “The other team dictated the game for most of the first two periods.”

Gendron replaced goaltender Matt Morris with Rob McGovern after Merrimack got a soft goal from Brett Seney 4:14 into the second period. That made it 4-1, and the Warriors seemed to ice the game with a Michael Babcock rebound goal at 15:25 of the period.

Maine (7-20-6, 4-13-2) got back into it on the power play, of all things. A team with only 13 power-play goals all season got two from Will Merchant 1:46 apart to make it 5-3 after two periods. Merchant leads the team with 12 goals.

“Steven (Swavely) just got it to the net there and I was lucky enough just to get both rebounds,” Merchant said.

Swavely assisted on an Eric Schurhamer goal from the left point at 4:46 of the third period to cut the deficit to 5-4.

“The other team tightens up a little bit and you’re hoping you can work hard for another one,” Merchant said. “You’ve got the momentum at that time and we just struggled to get it in and get anything consistent.”

Merrimack also made it difficult by starting to value the puck a little more.

“They didn’t get much close at that point,” Warriors Coach Mark Dennehy said. “We started to break the puck out a little cleaner; we got it in deep.”

Gendron pulled McGovern with 1:14 remaining and called his timeout five seconds later. That’s when the defensive blunder proved costly and Merrimack snapped a five-game losing streak to Maine.

“You’re not going to win any games in Hockey East when you come out with a start like that,” said Renouf, who scored Maine’s first goal. “Any team in the league is tough to come back on.”

For Gendron, it wasn’t so much that his team lost a fifth consecutive game, but that a competitive fire he’d been praising all season was somehow missing during its second-to-last home outing.

“We were losing too many battles early in the game. We had certain guys that weren’t really skating, like really skating, and that’s what we do,” he said. “I told the kids, ‘It’s on you guys. I’ve given you kudos for hanging in there all year long, but tonight I’m angry at our team.’

“I’m sorry, there’s no excuse for that.”

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