Returning UM nucleus makes for optimism

Posted March 17, 2009, at 10:03 p.m.

The University of Maine men’s hockey team may have turned the corner with its impressive showing in the first two games of their best-of-three Hockey East quarterfinal series against the nation’s top-ranked Boston University Terriers.

BU used a late goal with a two-man advantage to win game one 2-1, Maine erased a 3-1 deficit in the second game for a 6-3 win that snapped BU’s 17-game unbeaten streak before BU won the finale 6-2.

But time will tell.

Maine’s second consecutive 13-win season (13-22-4, 7-17-3 in Hockey East) has left the Alfond Arena faithful impatient and clamoring for a return to the glory days.

The Black Bears will return players who produced 81.4 percent of their goals and 76.4 percent of their assists. They will return six defensemen who played in at least 24 games, including Brett Carriere, who was converted to forward but could return to the blue line.

They also will retain both goalies.

Four seniors graduate.

The Black Bears lost 11 one-goal games, including five in which they led in the third period.

Some of that certainly can be attributed to their inexperience.

They were the fifth youngest team in terms of freshmen and sophomores among the 58 teams in Division I. There were usually 12 to 14 freshmen and sophomores in the lineup.

Goaltending was another factor with freshman Scott Darling and two-year backup Dave Wilson having their ups and downs due to inexperience.

Teams that have confidence in their goaltenders play with more assurance. They aren’t as afraid to make mistakes. They’re more assertive and comfortable.

When teams don’t have confidence in the goalie, they tend to play tentative. They’re afraid to make a mistake.

But both goalies displayed promise and should supply the Bears with a quality tandem next season if they can iron out some flaws.

Darling finished with a 10-14-3 record, a 2.76 goals-against average and an .895 save percentage. He was sharp in the first two playoff games but wasn’t good in the 6-2 loss.

Darling will have to make better use of his 6-foot-5 frame next year and minimize his movement like he did in the first half of this season when he had a 1.41 goals-against average and a .944 save percentage. He needs to have better technique with his glove and stay upright longer.

Wilson got better as the season wore on until suffering a groin pull the week before the regular-season series finale at UMass Lowell. Wilson had a .916 save percentage in his last five starts and finished with a 3-8-1 record, a 2.82 GAA and a .901 save percentage. He has to avoid dropping into his butterfly too soon and, like Darling, work on his glove technique.

The defense corps was the team’s strength this season and should be even better next season.

They will lose valuable two-way defensemen Matt Duffy (7 goals, 10 assists) and Simon Danis-Pepin (0 & 13). Duffy was the trigger man on the power play with his one-timers.

They both played on the power-play and penalty-killing units.

Duffy had his best year, and Danis-Pepin had an exceptional first half before ankle and back ailments hampered him in the second half. But he played in the final 20 games despite the injuries and provided valuable leadership.

Sophomore Jeff Dimmen (6 & 9) has evolved into one of Hockey East’s most underrated defensemen thanks to his skating ability, offensive instincts and grit. He could be one of the league’s best next year.

Hard-nosed Mike Banwell (2 & 6) may have been the team’s most improved player, and fellow sophomore Josh Van Dyk (0 & 8) was more consistent. Freshman Will O’Neill (4 & 12) was impressive at both ends of the ice, and Ryan Hegarty (0 & 3) overcame a slow start to be a steady force with an edge to his game. He suffered a season-ending neck injury but should be 100 percent next season.

Six-foot-four freshman Mark Nemec was redshirted and has potential.

Incoming point-producing blue-liner Nick Pryor could generate offense and help the power play.

Up front, Maine averaged just 2.2 goals per game and was held to two goals or fewer 25 times.

The Bears should improve significantly in that area next year. Power skating lessons would help as they could use more speed.

Dynamic right wing Gustav Nyquist (13 & 19) and crafty left wing Brian Flynn (12 & 13) had terrific freshman seasons on Maine’s top line surrounding reliable all-purpose sophomore center Tanner House (10 & 14). Nyquist and Flynn each had five power-play goals.

Nyquist had three goals and an assist in the playoff series.

That should be one of the league’s dominant lines next season.

Supplementary scoring was a problem this season, but freshman right wing Spencer Abbott (7 & 9) finished strong and led the team with six power-play goals. He could make big strides next year, especially if he adds a little grit to his game.

Sophomore left wing Robby Dee (6 & 5, 5 power-play goals) became more prominent and should be better next year. He could also use more grit.

Sophomore center Keif Orsini (3 & 4) and scoreless freshman left wings Nick Payson and Theo Andersson earned regular duty late in the season with their improved play, as did junior right wings Kevin Swallow (1 & 3) and David de Kastrozza (0 & 1).

Sophomores Lem Randall (4 & 5) and Glenn Belmore (0 & 1) and freshman Kyle Solomon (9 & 2) will also return.

The versatile Carriere (2 & 0) will return for his senior year.

The special teams should be solid.

Graduating center Chris Hahn (7 & 12) and C-W Jeff Marshall (2 & 2) were useful role players and leaders.

The incoming forwards include 5-7 Joey Diamond, who was one of the Ontario Junior A Hockey League’s top scorers for Hamilton (42 & 34) and most penalized players (213 PIMs); New Hampshire Junior Monarch playmaker Adam Shemansky (18 & 38); speedster Matt Mangene (12 & 25); valuable two-way forward Kelen Corkum (9 & 4 in 13 games before injury), son of Maine assistant Bob Corkum; and Robin Bergman (20 & 18) from Sweden and Cedar Rapids in the U.S. Hockey League. Bergman played a semester at Notre Dame last season.

Maine should win at least five to seven more games in Hockey East next season to flirt with its first home-ice berth in four years.

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