ORONO, Maine – Wins have been few and far between for the University of Maine women’s ice hockey team recently.
The Black Bears have gone 9-50-8 over the last two seasons.
Maine graduated just two players off last year’s 5-23-5 team so there is optimism as the Bears prepare for this weekend’s Friday night-Saturday afternoon openers against visiting Sacred Heart (Conn.) at the Alfond Arena.
However, those two players were Vanessa Vani, their leading scorer the previous two seasons, and workhorse goalie Genevieve Turgeon.
“Vani and Turgeon are a couple of key people to lose,” said third-year Maine coach Dan Lichterman. “But I like where we’re at. We’ve got a veteran group and we’re off to a quicker start mentally because a lot of the kids have been around the coaches a couple of years and know what’s going on. There’s not as big a learning curve right now.”
When Lichterman took the reins after the 2007 season, he was the program’s third coach in three years.
Senior forward Jenna Ouellette said having coaching stability is “important.
“We all know his philosophy, we all know the way he works,” said Ouellette. “Even having Karine [assistant Karine Senecal] around, too, for three years [has been beneficial]. We know what they expect of us.”
“We have a real positive outlook,” said senior defenseman Elyce Thomas. “We have a very solid freshman class coming in. As a veteran team, we’re looking to our freshmen and sophomores to step up and bring the team forward along with the senior class. We’re very optimistic and excited.”
“I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people,” said senior forward Amy Stech.
The question mark will be between the pipes where sophomore Candice Currier and highly-touted freshman Brittany Ott will battle for the starting job with freshman Kylie Smith backing them up.
“I like the mix we have. We’ll see who can stop the puck come game time,” said Lichterman. “Ott has played in some big games, some national championship games at the club level. Brittany and Candice have two very different styles. Ott is 5-foot-3 and she’s a scrambler who will make a save any way she has to. Currier is 5-11 and is more technical.”
The defense corps returns intact led by seniors Lexie Hoffmeyer (4 goals, 14 assists) and Thomas (1 & 5) along with seasoned sophomores Melissa Gagnon (1 & 6), Jessica Bond (2 & 4) and Ashley Norum (2 & 3).
Junior Madelene Eriksson, who played in 34 games two years ago but was limited to five games due to illness last year, is healthy again and freshman Chloe Tinkler has “great offensive instincts” according to Lichterman.
“We have a veteran group back there. We should be a lot better in our own end,” said Lichterman, whose Bears allowed 119 goals in 33 games.
The Bears scored only 67 goals and they feel that total will be significantly higher.
“We shouldn’t have a problem filling the net but we have to shoot more,” said Ouellette, who had nine goals and nine assists in 2008-2009.
Junior Jennie Gallo (12 & 11), sophomore Myriam Croussette (6 & 11) and Stech (8 & 3) will also be offensive catalysts.
The other returning forwards include Dawn Sullivan (3 & 6), Jordan Colliton (3 & 4), Abby Barton (3 & 1), Dominique Goutsis (2 & 2), Taryn Peacock (2 & 1), Danielle Cyr (1 & 0) and Kaitlin Zeek (0 points).
Peacock had 16 points two years ago but was hampered by injury last year and underwent shoulder surgery.
Freshmen Brittany Dougherty, Brianne Kilgour and Darcia Leimgruber have good offensive skills according to Lichterman.
The Bears showed dramatic improvement in their special teams a year ago and that trend should continue since Vani is the only one missing off the power play unit.