Bears have speed; need road wins

Posted Nov. 10, 2009, at 11:46 p.m.

So what can we read into the University of Maine men’s hockey team’s last three home wins over nationally ranked Michigan State, Vermont and Boston University?

BU is the defending national champ and Vermont was a Frozen Four team last year, losing to BU 5-4 in the semis.

I wouldn’t start making post-season plans yet, but it does show that this team has potential to exceed the 13 wins produced in each of the last two seasons.

Now the Bears need to show they can win a road game. They are 0-4 so far.

You also have to be rational.

When the Black Bears beat Vermont 4-1, the Catamounts were without two of their top three returning scorers in Justin Milo and Wahsontiio Stacey. And Maine needed sophomore goalie Scott Darling to stop three breakaways.

When they knocked off BU 3-2 Sunday, the Terriers were without 50-point scorer Nick Bonino. And the Terriers had played Friday night while Maine was rested.

But this was an eye-opening triumph because BU had three more power-play chances and, although they lost five of their top six scorers off last year’s team, there will never be a talent deficiency at BU.

Eight games into this season, what we know about the Black Bears is they have improved their talent and speed.

They are smaller than they have been up front, but they are noticeably faster, and the freshmen aren’t afraid to get their noses dirty.

Freshman five-goal scorer Adam Shemansky and linemate Matt Mangene have been two of the primary reasons the speed has shown a noticeable increase, and there appear to be up sides to the other first-year forwards (Joey Diamond, Klas Leidermark and Kyle Beattie), although they haven’t put up any points yet.

When you improve your speed and skill at the forward position, it means you should be able to spend more time in the offensive zone and less time in the defensive zone.

And when opponents have an odd-man rush, the forwards have enough speed to hustle back and disrupt the scoring chance.

There is absolutely no substitute for speed.

Sophomore right wing Gustav Nyquist (5 goals and 8 assists) has picked up where he left off last year when he was chosen to the Hockey East All-Rookie team. He has at least a point in Maine’s last seven games. And most of the other returning forwards have elevated their games a notch.

The defensemen can be a little high-risk at times, but they have been caught in a difficult situation because, up until the last two games, the goaltending has been inconsistent at best.

The defense corps has been efficient in the last two victories, and the Bears need to continue to play that way.

Darling was nothing short of superb in the Vermont and BU triumphs. He played like he did in the first half of last season before his second-half collapse.

If he can keep playing that way, there is reason for optimism.

Maine should also benefit by the fact the league has exhibited unusual parity because the perennial front-runners have been hit hard by graduation and pro departures.

Every team has played three to five league games, and seven already have two wins. Everyone has at least one victory. Preseason title pick BU is 1-4 in HE, but the Terriers’ struggles won’t last.

Now the Bears have to win on the road beginning with a two-game set at Northeastern.

There’s no reason to get excited until they start winning away from Alfond Arena.

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