Veteran players, led by second-year forward Aidan Connolly, propelled the Maine Nordiques past the Danbury Jr. Hat Tricks 4-3 in a North American Hockey League East Division contest at The Colisee on Friday night.

Connolly, a Sacred Heart commit, scored twice in the win. Fellow second-year forwards Reese Farrell and Ignat Belov each had a goal and an assist. Tyler Gaulin provided four assists.

“Those guys have been instrumental in establishing our culture with this new group,” Maine Nordiques coach Nolan Howe said. “They have led by example by their play on the ice, and that’s why (most) of the players eligible to return did. …That tells me we have the right guys.”

Before the start of the game, the Nordiques unveiled the 2020-21 NAHL East Division champions banner.

Connolly scored first to give the Nordiques (4-3-0, 8 points) a 1-0 lead in the first period.

Danbury (1-5-1, 3 points) tied the game up at 1-1 with a shorthanded goal by Ben Biester later in the first.

Farrell, who assisted on Connolly’s opening goal, put Maine up 2-1 in the first period’s final minute with a power-play goal. Gaulin notched his second assist of the game, and Belov also recorded an assist.

Hunter Young tied the game 2-2 early in the second period. It was his first goal of the season.

Belov gave the Nordiques a 3-2 lead late in the second period for his second goal of the year. Gaulin and Connolly had the assists.

“Credit to them; they answered us a few times,” Howe said. “We took the lead and had to claw back, and we scored two goals in the last five minutes — one (goal) in the first period and one in the second period — to give ourselves the lead. Last season we were 25-0 when leading after two. Tonight we ended up getting the win, but it was much more chaotic in achieving that win.”

Howe said Friday’s win was more chaotic because of the number of newcomers this season.

“This year, we have seven (2003-born) and one (2004-born) players, so a third of our roster is much younger than a season ago,” Howe said. “With the younger players, they have high ceilings, and they have great potential, but it’s a very challenging league to come in at a young age and have consistent success. They need to go through some failures; they need to make mistakes in order for them to learn and grow as players. As coaches, we have to have a little more patience this season and focus on teaching and developing these guys.”

Connolly potted his second goal in the third period to extend the Nordiques lead to 4-2. He leads the team with nine points (four goals and five assists).

The Hat Tricks didn’t go away quietly with Andrew Eberling’s goal cut the deficit to 4-3.

Third-year goalie Avery Sturtz stopped 31 shots for the Nordiques, and Adam Johnson made 25 saves for Danbury.

Maine goes for the weekend sweep against the Hat Tricks on Saturday at The Colisee at 7 p.m.


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