The University of Maine men’s hockey team will open the second half of its season this afternoon without senior defenseman and co-captain Simon Danis-Pepin, who slipped and sprained his ankle earlier this week at his home.
The 10-5-1 Black Bears face 4-7-3 Colgate University in the ninth annual Florida College Classic in Estero, Fla., at 4 p.m. Cornell, 7-1-2 and ranked 10th in the country, takes on 10-8 St. Cloud State in the 7:30 game.
The consolation and championship games will be Sunday at 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., respectively.
The 6-foot-7 Danis-Pepin had played in 90 consecutive games and had five assists in 16 games this season. He will be replaced by freshman Ryan Hegarty, who has two assists in 10 games.
“It hurts having Simon out,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “He’s such an important player for us for a lot of reasons. He plays in all our key situations: power play, penalty-killing and the first and last minutes of a period. He’s great when we’re killing five-on-threes. He blocks shots and deflects pucks out of the way.
“He’s also done a great job as a captain. He’s so enthusiastic and positive,” Whitehead added. “We’re hoping to have him back for the New Hampshire game [on Jan. 4].”
Sophomore Josh Van Dyk will take Danis-Pepin’s place on the power play and all six defensemen have seen duty on the penalty kill.
The Black Bears have won three of the previous eight Florida College Classics with its last title coming two years ago.
The Maine players consider it an important tournament as they prepare for a grueling second-half schedule including 17 Hockey East games.
“There’s been a lot of talk about how difficult our second half is going to be and this is a good way to put our right foot forward going into the second half,” said Maine senior center Chris Hahn. “It’s definitely a bit of a challenge. We’ve had some time off and you have distractions down there like the weather and the ice, which is a little choppy. Play can be sloppy so you’ve really got to be on top of it.”
“It would be real important for our confidence. If we can get a couple of wins down there, it would be a great way to go into the UNH game,” said freshman right wing Gustav Nyquist.
Maine hasn’t played since sweeping Union 3-1 and 5-1 on Dec. 12 and 13. St. Cloud State also played Dec. 12-13, getting swept at North Dakota (3-2, 7-4), but Cornell and Colgate’s last games were Dec. 6.
Players for the respective teams try to stay in shape during the holiday break.
“A lot of us brought our equipment home to skate with friends. And Terry [Maine strength and conditioning coach Terry O’Neill] gave us a great program to follow,” said Maine sophomore center Keif Orsini.
Maine practiced in Orono on Christmas day before flying to Florida. They practiced Friday at Germain Arena.
Whitehead said he will re-insert Dartmouth College transfer Kevin Swallow into the lineup after sitting him for the two Union College games. He will replace freshman Theo Andersson and will center for senior Jeff Marshall and junior Brett Carriere.
Whitehead is looking forward to the tournament.
“It will be a real good tournament as usual. Cornell and St. Cloud State have been nationally ranked and Colgate has a strong tradition,” said Whitehead. “What I like most is these three opponents aren’t teams we normally see. They have great hockey traditions. It will be a lot of fun.”
If co-hosts Maine and Cornell meet Sunday, two of the nation’s top goaltenders will square off. Cornell junior Ben Scrivens leads the nation in goals-against average (1.21) and save percentage (.954) while Maine freshman Scott Darling is fourth (1.41) and third (.944), respectively.