The University of Maine men’s hockey team will try to build on the momentum it generated this past weekend when it entertains the upstart Providence College Friars on Friday and Saturday nights.
Maine posted an impressive Friday night road win over UMass Lowell (3-1), which was ranked third in the country, and then thumped St. Lawrence 10-1 in Portland on Saturday night.
The Black Bears are 5-2-1 in their last eight games after a 1-5 start. They are 6-7-1 overall and 4-4-1 in Hockey East.
Providence is 7-5-1 and 2-3-1 and has averaged 42.7 shots on goal in it last three games.
“We’ve been playing good hockey for quite a while now,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “The object now is to sustain it in our last two weekends at home [before the Christmas break] and, hopefully, the results will come with it.”
Maine hosts Northeastern on Dec. 12.
“Our challenge is to keep a consistent effort every night,” said junior center and captain Tanner House. “That’s a challenge throughout the year, to try to be as consistent as possible. That will be our focus. We’ve got to work hard this week to get ready for Providence.”
One of the many bright spots for Maine over the weekend was the play of redshirt freshman defenseman Mark Nemec, who returned to action after missing five weeks with a broken thumb.
“I was really pleased with his performance all weekend. It was great to see Mark step in and play as well as he did both nights,” said Whitehead. “He was very solid. He moved his feet and when he didn’t have a pass [available], he’d carry it to the [red] line and get the puck deep [into the offensive zone]. He did a good job on the penalty kill and defending the rush. He’s so mobile for a big guy [6-foot-4, 205 pounds].”
Nemec was playing because three defensemen were out.
Mike Banwell was out with a knee injury, Nick Pryor had a concussion and Brett Carriere was nursing a shoulder injury.
Whitehead said he expects to have Pryor and Carriere available this weekend but Banwell will probably be out until after Christmas, the coach said.
Freshman center Matt Mangene, who missed both games with the flu, will also be available and sophomore center Kyle Solomon, who missed Saturday’s game after leaving the UMass Lowell game with a groin injury sustained when he blocked a shot, could also be available.
“Matt will definitely be back in the lineup. He’s a very valuable player for us even as a freshman. He’s a very productive player. He’s great defensively, he kills penalties, he can take faceoffs and he subs in on the power play at the net front,” said Whitehead.
The Maine coach said he likes the fact he and his staff will have to make some lineup decisions this weekend.
“It’s nice to have depth. It’s a big plus,” said Whitehead. “I really liked the fact we were down to our last player last weekend and everyone stepped up. That was one of the most encouraging aspects of the weekend.”
Maine’s outburst, including a 6-for-11 showing on the power play, has elevated the Black Bears in the national categories.
Maine is fifth in power-play percentage (26.7 percent) and is tied for ninth in scoring with 3.64 goals per game.
Sophomore right wing Gustav Nyquist is tied for second in the country in scoring with 21 points (8 goals, 13 assists), two behind Massachusetts’ James Marcou.
Maine freshman left wing Adam Shemansky is tied for sixth in the nation in power-play goals with five.
Providence is led by sophomore goalie Alex Beaudry, whose .927 save percentage is 10th-best in the country.
“Beaudry has given them solid goaltending and it has made a big difference,” said Whitehead. “They’ve been playing good team defense and have been generating more offense.”
Providence is allowing 2.54 goals per game which ranks 16th in the nation.