The University of Maine men’s hockey team will play its final two Hockey East games in the 2008 portion of its schedule this weekend when the Black Bears visit Northeastern University on Friday night and Merrimack College on Sunday afternoon.
The Bears had their seven-game unbeaten streak (6-0-1) snapped by Vermont 3-2 Saturday night in Burlington, Vt., and they will be searching for more goal production.
Maine, 7-4-1 overall and 4-3-1 in Hockey East, has been held to five goals in its last three games combined and the power play is in an 0-for-21 drought. Maine is averaging 2.08 goals per game and has scored more than three goals only twice.
“We’re trying a few guys in different positions but there’s no secret formula,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “We understood that without [Teddy] Purcell and [Andrew] Sweetland, scoring goals would be our challenge. But we’re very committed to finding ways to score an extra goal a game.”
Purcell and Sweetland signed free-agent contracts with Los Angeles and Florida, respectively, after their freshman seasons in 2007 and 2008.
Maine is one of the nation’s stingiest teams, allowing just 1.75 goals per game, which is sixth best in the country. Maine’s penalty-killing is operating at 92.9 percent efficiency which is fourth best.
Freshman goalie Scott Darling has the nation’s lowest GAA at 1.24 and he is second in save percentage at .950. Darling was named Hockey East’s Goalie of the Month for November (4-1-1, 1.32, .951).
Whitehead acknowledged his team’s focus on team defense hurts its offense.
“But to be [close] in every game, we have to play great team defense. If we cheat on the offensive side of things, we’ll leave our goalies [Darling and Dave Wilson] out to dry. As well as they’ve done, they’re still not that experienced. We need to put them into position to succeed.
“We have to be patient. We have to resist temptation to get overanxious about our offense. There isn’t an overnight fix. It’s not like we have 20-goal scorers on our bench who are underachieving. We just have to keep working at improving every day,” said Whitehead. “The most encouraging thing is the team is very coachable and they understand this is the only way we can play to be successful. They’re making progress every week in their skill development.”
Whitehead said one thing that would help is if his Bears can earn more power-play chances.
“Unfortunately, fewer penalties have been called the last few weeks,” said Whitehead. “Hopefully, that will change.”
Maine has had just seven chances on the power play in the last two games.
“We’ve got to drive the net more to draw more penalties and take the goalies’ eyes away,” Whitehead added.
Whitehead has returned junior Brett Carriere to defense. Jeff Dimmen and Mike Banwell are both nursing injuries that could keep them out of the lineup this weekend, he said.
Toys for Tots collections ongoing
The Student-Athlete Advisory Committee will be collecting toys at five upcoming Black Bear home games in men’s and women’s hockey and basketball for the U.S. Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots Program. They will collect new, unwrapped toys for needy children through Dec. 15.
The games are the women’s basketball game against Robert Morris tonight at 7; the Saturday women’s hockey game against Providence at 2 p.m.; Monday’s men’s basketball game against Colgate at 7 and men’s hockey games against Union College Dec. 12-13 at 7.
Donations also will be accepted at the Memorial Gym.