ORONO, Maine — The importance of goaltending in hockey can’t be understated.
The University of Maine men’s hockey team will enter the season with a three-man goaltending battle between senior Dave Wilson, sophomore Scott Darling and freshman Shawn Sirman.
“There is no question in my mind we’re going to be better in that position this year,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “Scott and Dave came back in great shape and Shawn is coming off such a good season. With his talent, he’ll push them.”
Darling won the job last season, but struggled mightily over the second half of the season. After going 8-4-2 with a 1.61 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage in his first 14 games, he won just twice more (2-10-1) the rest of the way and concluded the season with a 10-14-3 mark, a 2.76 GAA and an .895 save percentage.
Wilson finished with a 3-8-1 record, a 2.82 GAA and a .901 save percentage but had a .916 save percentage over his last five starts before a groin injury ended his season the week before the regular-season finale.
Sirman had a 2.17 GAA and a .929 save percentage and was named the Most Valuable Player in both the Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League playoffs and the Dudley Hewitt Cup playoffs.
Sophomore Josh Seeley returns as the fourth goalie.
“I’m pretty confident in all of them,” said junior center and captain Tanner House. “They’ve been looking really good in captain’s practices. I know Scott and Dave will take what they did last season and elevate it to a new level.”
Assistant captain and defenseman Jeff Dimmen added, “They’ve all been standing on their heads in practice so as long as we give them some defense, we should be good there.”
Darling has identified the culprit behind his second-half demise: Himself.
“I thought a lot about what went wrong over the summer. I was too hard on myself,” said the 6-foot-6 Darling. “I just need to go out and have fun. I can’t worry about what everyone else is thinking about my play. I’ve just got to worry about what I’m doing.
“I worked really hard this summer and came back in better shape. I’m more prepared. I know what to expect now. I’ve played the other teams and played in their rinks. I think I’m going to have a lot better season overall,” Darling added.
Wilson said the goaltending will be stronger this year.
“Scott and I really improved over the offseason. We got a lot stronger technically. We’re a year older and more experienced,” said Wilson, who is healthy.
Sirman said having three of them vying for playing time is a positive situation.
“It makes you work harder and pushes you. If you don’t have anyone pushing you in practice, you might slack off in some areas,” said Sirman. “With all of us here working and battling, practices get pretty intense.”
Sirman said he has high expectations.
“I’m hoping I’ll be able to get in some games as a freshman. Hopefully, I can push for the number one job,” said Sirman.
“All of us are working hard for it. Scott was their number one last year and came in here in great shape and he’s looking good. Same with Dave. I’m going to have to work harder and try to beat one of them out for a spot,” added Sirman.
All three could dress for games as teams are allowed to have up to 21 players in uniform. But the 21st player has to be a goalie.
Maine will have its annual Blue-White scrimmage on Sunday at 4 p.m. at Alfond Arena and the Bears will open with a two-game series at Union College (N.Y.) on Oct. 9-10.