Freshman goalie Scott Darling played an integral part in the University of Maine’s hockey success before the Christmas break.
Prior to the 3-2 overtime loss to Colgate on Dec. 27 in the Florida College Classic, he was among the nation’s leaders in goals-against average (1.41) and save percentage (.944).
But Darling has gone 0-4-2 since then with a 3.77 GAA and a .859 save percentage. And backup Dave Wilson lost his two starts to Bentley (3-1, 21 saves, 2 goals allowed) and Boston College (22 saves, 4 goals allowed).
Both goalies are anxious to bounce back and lead the Black Bears out of their 0-6-2 skid dating back to Dec. 13 this weekend as Maine hosts UMass Lowell tonight at 7 and UMass Amherst on Sunday at 4 p.m.
Maine coach Tim Whitehead hasn’t announced who will start.
Darling said he hasn’t been able to pinpoint a technical flaw.
“For me, the problem is between my ears and it’s been causing me to play a little bit deeper [in the net],” said Darling. “My problem is, I’ve been afraid to get scored on and you can’t think that way as a goalie. You’ve just got to think about every shot and trust yourself to stop it.
“In the first half, everything went really smooth. Now I’m facing some adversity and I’ve got to fight through it,” added Darling. “Dave and I are doing everything we can to get back on track and once we do, I think everything is going to be fine.”
Wilson said the two of them have focused on having constructive practices.
“We’ve practiced hard all week and we want to carry that over into the games,” said Wilson. “We’ve been talking a lot to help each other through things.”
The Maine players are confident the goalies will rebound and they said it is up to them to supply the goalies with better support.
“I’m not concerned about them at all,” said senior defenseman Matt Duffy. “They’ve been practicing real well. A lot of the goals we’ve been giving up have come off second shots and that’s our problem, not theirs. We’ve got to keep teams to the outside and as long as they make the first save, we can do the rest.”
“When we were winning, we were playing a lot better and the goalies were playing with more confidence because we were helping them out a lot more,” said senior defenseman and co-captain Simon Danis-Pepin. “We were giving up just five, six or seven Grade-A chances a game. Now we’re giving up four or five goals a game.
“Teams are counter-attacking on us and we aren’t going a good job getting our guys back. We have to keep a tighter gap on defense [between the forwards and defensemen]. And we need to protect the front of our net better,” said Danis-Pepin.
The Black Bears have averaged only 2.3 goals per game and the goalies admitted that puts more pressure on them.
But they know it comes with the territory.
“We know we have to be real sharp to get wins and if we make mistakes, it will probably cost us. I made a mistake against Providence [on a Nick Mazzolini third-period goal] and it cost us a point,” Darling said of the 2-2 tie. “But I think [goal-scoring] will come along eventually.”
Wilson added, “We have to take it five minutes at a time and try not to let in any soft goals. If we do let in one, we’ve got to bounce back right away.”
Whitehead said when the team is having trouble scoring, the goalies have “very little wiggle room.”
But he expects his team to play better defense and his goalies to respond.
“Scott is a real tough competitor with a great attitude. There’s no question he’ll get back to top form,” said Whitehead. “And Dave is working in practice to become as consistent as he can be.”
Senior center Chris Hahn noted the Bears have developed a bad habit of giving up the game’s first goal. It has occurred in seven of their last eight games.
“If we can score the first goal, Scott and Dave will feel more comfortable,” said Hahn.