The University of Maine women’s ice hockey team begins Hockey East play this weekend after playing six non-conference games in preparation for the league schedule.
Maine visits Boston University and Providence for 2 p.m. games on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
Maine, coming off a 4-27-3 season, is currently 2-4.
“We’re in a good spot,” said second-year coach Dan Lichterman. “We used these first four weeks to learn and make mistakes to prepare ourselves for Hockey East play. Our goal is to make the [six-team] Hockey East playoffs.
“The scores the last few weekends don’t really matter. We’re learning about our players individually; they’re learning about themselves and we’re learning about ourselves as a team,” said Lichterman. “I like our speed, I like how hard we work and how we compete.”
He feels his team has to “get into those [high-percentage] scoring areas more and shoot the puck more. And we’re playing three freshmen defensemen and we need them to get the puck quicker and go up the ice quicker.”
He said it’s “trial by fire” for freshman defensemen Ashley Norum, Melissa Gagnon and Jessica Bond as they have seen playing time in every situation.
“We know they’re going to make mistakes. We’re trying to be as patient as we can with them. They’ve improved every week. Once we get to Christmas, they’ll be like veterans back there,” added Lichterman.
Juniors Lexie Hoffmeyer and Elyce Thomas have anchored the defense corps. Hoffmeyer is tied for the team lead in scoring with three goals and four assists for seven points, two more points than she accrued all of last year. Thomas has three assists, all on the power play.
The Bears have been using just five defenseman as sophomore Madelene Eriksson from Sweden hasn’t played yet due to illness.
Up front, senior Vanessa Vani, the team’s leading scorer a year ago with 6 goals and 15 assists, has already scored two goals and picked up five assists to share the team scoring lead with Hoffmeyer.
“Vanessa has had a very good first few weeks,” said Lichterman.
Junior Jenna Ouellette (3 & 3), sophomore Jennie Gallo (3 & 2), freshman Myriam Croussette (1 & 4) and junior Amy Stech (3 & 1) have gotten off to productive starts up front.
Freshmen Gagnon (1 & 3), Dominique Goutsis (1 & 2) and Dawn Sullivan (1 & 2) have exhibited point-producing capabilities as has junior Abby Barton, who has scored two goals.
Lichterman said Barton and Stech “give a 100 percent effort from Monday through Saturday and they help set the bar for where we need to be from a work level [standpoint].”
Sophomores Danielle Cyr of Cumberland and Kaitlin Zeek have seen playing time on a line with Stech and Barton.
Maine will again be without injured veteran forwards Taryn Peacock (6 & 10 last year) and Jordan Colliton (3 & 5 a year ago) this weekend. Peacock has missed the last three games and Colliton has missed the last two.
He hopes to have them back in three weeks.
And Robyn Law, who was the team’s fourth-leading scorer the past two years, has been dismissed from the team.
“It was a coach’s decision,” said Lichterman.
Senior goaltender Genevieve Turgeon (1-4, 4.03 goals-against average, .904 save percentage) has been “unbelievable” according to Lichterman.
“She’s been making all the saves she should and some she shouldn’t have. She has been real solid,” said Lichterman.
The power play has been dramatically improved, operating at a 26.5 percent rate after going a dismal 7.1 percent last year.
“We already have nine power-play goals. We had 11 all of last year,” said Lichterman. “We’ve been moving the puck really well and controlling it. We’ve been getting a lot of good chances.”