University of Maine junior goalie Dave Wilson has vivid memories of the University of Massachusetts’ Mullins Center rink in Amherst, Mass.
When Ben Bishop was injured two years ago, Wilson not only played the last two games of the regular season against UMass at the Mullins Center, but the Bears wound up returning there for the Hockey East quarterfinals the following weekend.
Wilson went 0-4, allowing 14 goals while making 96 saves.
“They aren’t fond memories. I don’t have a very good record there. Hopefully, I’ll have a better weekend this weekend,” said Wilson, who will get the start tonight as the Bears and Minutemen look to lock up Hockey East playoff spots. They are tied for seventh place and eight teams make the playoffs.
Despite his previous woes in Amherst, Wilson said he “really likes that rink.
“There’s a lot of space. You have to be real careful [playing your angles],” said Wilson, referring to the fact the Mullins Center is 10 feet wider than Maine’s Alfond Arena.
“The biggest thing back then was the crowd. The crowd got to me,” said Wilson. “Since then, I’ve learned to block crowds out … like at UNH and BC. I’ve gotten used to it and I’ve moved past it now. I block out the crowd and play my game,” said Wilson.
Wilson is playing some of the best hockey of his career these days with a 2.50 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage in his last four starts including a 34-save, 2-2 overtime tie with Boston University, the nation’s top-ranked team, last Saturday.
“He’s a different player than he was two years ago,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “He has improved tremendously in all areas. He’s so much more consistent and assertive.”
“I feel very good about my game right now,” said Wilson. “I feel confident. I’m getting used to being in the net. I’m calm and handling adversity better. At the same time, the defense is playing real well. They’re keeping guys away from the net and clearing rebounds.”
He said playing on a wider ice sheet does pose its problems for a goalie who isn’t used to it.
He noted that there is a tendency to wander off-angle “especially short side. You cheat a little too much and leave the far side wide open.”
However, the Bears will practice there today so Wilson will use that practice and pre-game warmups to get acclimated.
One player who is looking forward to the larger ice sheet is Black Bear freshman right wing and leading scorer Gustav Nyquist, who grew up playing on the wider Olympic-sized ice sheets in Sweden.
“It’s been good to get used to the smaller rinks but I’m obviously more used to the bigger sheet. It should be a lot of fun,” said Nyquist, who snapped a 12-game goal-scoring drought with a goal against BU on Saturday.
“That was important for me. It felt really nice,” said Nyquist.
Maine sophomore defenseman Mike Banwell said it will be extremely important for them to stay within the faceoff dots when trying to contain the fast-skating Minutemen.
“If we can force them to skate around the perimeter, they won’t hurt us,” said Banwell, who added the Bears will be bolstered by the return of defenseman Jeff Dimmen and defenseman-turned-center Will O’Neill.
Dimmen and O’Neill received fighting majors and game disqualifications in Friday’s 7-2 loss to BU which kept them out of Saturday’s lineup.
“They’re tough competitors. Having them back will be huge for us,” said Banwell.
Maine will be without redshirt freshman and former Bangor High School hockey and football standout Nick Payson.
Left winger Payson, who has played the last five games after being in and out of the lineup for most of the season, has been suspended for three games by Whitehead, who said it was a class attendance issue.
UMass will benefit from the return of speedy senior right wing Chris Davis, who missed the previous four games with a shoulder injury.