WATERVILLE — The Mules season wasn’t exactly on the brink Saturday afternoon at Alfond Rink, but it was at the very least hanging tenuously over the edge of a daunting cliff. After having lost two games heading into the matinee at home, including a shutout on Friday night, the Colby College hockey team sought signs of life in the midst of a winless 2018.

Search no longer, as No. 14 Colby exploded for four third-period goals to skate off to a 4-1 win over Amherst College, handing Amherst its first New England Small College Athletic Conference loss of the season.

“That was definitely a statement period,” Colby senior Cam MacDonald said. “It was gut-check time for us. We knew we had to come out in the third. We knew we had to set the tone, and I’m very proud of our effort there.”

Freshman winger Justin Grillo collected a pair of assists, including on Joe Schuler’s game-tying power-play goal just 26 seconds into the final stanza. Senior defenseman Michael Decker produced the eventual game-winner, floating a wrister through traffic in front of Amherst goaltender Connor Girard (23 saves) six minutes after Grillo put the Mules on the board to begin with.

After losing on the road midweek at the University of New England and returning to NESCAC play Friday night at Alfond only to be blanked by No. 11 Williams, Colby head coach Blaise MacDonald was looking for a period like the one the Mules provided in the third. Colby didn’t try to reinvent the wheel, start juggling its lines or tackle the final 20 minutes with a new game plan.

Instead, the Mules (7-4-0 overall, 6-2-0 NESCAC) made it a point to do the little things better.

“You could see the energy on our bench. This is a game of momentum swings, and enthusiasm goes a long way toward creating momentum,” Blaise MacDonald said. “This game in nature is simple — ‘Through chaos, find simplicity.’ We were trying to be a little too fine trying to find that extra pass… We just had to simplify and get pucks and bodies to the net.”

Cam MacDonald’s screen on Decker’s go-ahead goal was evidence of the new approach, as the winger expertly timed his leap in mid-air to screen Girard’s view. Grillo assisted on the score.

“We felt like we were doing well on the cycle, but we just needed to get pucks to the cage,” Cam MacDonald said. “We were looking for some energy, maybe get a dirty goal, so we brought some energy and tried to get in front of the goalie and maybe get a greasy one. It worked out for us.”

“One goal is such a tenuous lead,” said Amherst coach Jack Arena, whose team is now 5-4-3 overall, 3-1-3 in the NESCAC. “You might feel good about how you’re playing, but one bounce and it all changes.

“Some nights it goes in for you and some nights it goes in for them. Today, it went in for them.”

With under five minutes remaining, Colby senior Mario Benicky took advantage of a pinching Amherst defense to cap a two-on-one feed from John Rourke for his seventh goal of the season and a 3-1 lead. Kienan Scott added an empty-netter with 1:38 remaining to seal it.

Senior goalie Sean Lawrence was superb — yet again — in a 40-save effort to keep Colby in the game while being outplayed through the first two periods. He also stopped a Thomas Lindstrom breakaway midway through the period to preserve a one-goal lead at the time, after Lindstrom found room right down the middle of the ice after stepping out of the penalty box.

Colby looked like a team trying to find itself in the first period, starting sluggishly and watching the Mammoths take a 1-0 lead just four minutes into the contest. After having the Mules hemmed in for shifts at a time, defenseman Tyler Granara’s wobbly wrister from along the right-wing boards found space through Lawrence’s pads for the opening goal of the game.

It stayed 1-0 until Schuler was able to tie things up, capitalizing on the 55 seconds left over from the middle period on Jack Fitzgerald’s cross-checking minor.

Grillo, stationed in the slot area as the Mules worked the puck around with the man-advantage, was there to set Schuler up for an easy tap-in and a huge momentum swing.

“We moved it quickly. They have an aggressive penalty kill, and we were able to find some soft spots,” Grillo said. “We moved it from the blue line to the goal line and back to the middle, and Joe Schuler got a nice touch on it. The goalie didn’t really have a chance to move.

“This is our home barn, and we don’t like to have other people come into it and act like it’s their house. We just got going in the locker room and made sure that all the things we do in the offseason, we do it for times like these.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

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Twitter: @TBarrettGWC