The University of Maine men’s hockey team enters the Christmas break with a 9-7-1 record, an 8-2-1 mark over its last 11 games. That includes a six-game unbeaten streak (5-0-1) and a five-game winning skein.
The Black Bears are 7-4-1 in Hockey East after going 7-17-3 a year ago.
They were 10-5-1 and 5-4-1 (HE) at the break last year. They finished up at 13-22-4 overall.
Maine coach Tim Whitehead feels much better about this team than he did last year’s team.
“Our record is quite similar to last year’s but, as coaches, we weren’t as happy or as confident with where the team was at this time last year,” said Whitehead. “We knew there were some holes that might slip us up after Christmas. Unfortunately, we had some injuries, our goaltending struggled and, before you know it, we had trouble putting any wins on the board.
“Now we’re in a totally different spot,” Whitehead added. “We’ve been receiving great goaltending, our special-teams play has been very strong and our five-on-five play has been tremendous.”
During the five-game winning streak, Maine has received goals from 12 players.
Sophomore goalie Scott Darling has started all five games and has a 1.07 goals-against average and a .958 save percentage in the streak. He is 9-3-1 with a 2.47 GAA and a .912 save percentage overall.
Maine has the nation’s second-best power-play percentage (28.8 percent) thanks to its 12-for-25 (48 percent) performance in the five-game winning streak. The Bears, thanks to their scoring depth, are averaging 3.65 goals per game which is seventh-best in the nation.
Sixteen players have scored at least one goal, 10 have scored three or more and eight have scored at least four goals.
“Our secondary scoring has been huge,” said junior center and captain Tanner House. “Somebody different is stepping up every night.”
The evolution of scoring depth has enabled Whitehead to reunite last year’s top scoring line of House between sophomore left wing Brian Flynn and sophomore right wing Gustav Nyquist. They have combined for 13 goals and 18 assists over the last six games.
Nyquist leads the team in scoring with 11 goals and 14 assists. He is tied for sixth in the country in points (25).
Flynn has 5 & 14 and House has 7 & 6. Sophomore defenseman Will O’Neill has 4 & 11; freshman right wing Adam Shemansky has 8 & 6 including a team-leading six power-play goals; sophomore left wing Spencer Abbott has 4 & 9, junior center Robby Dee has 5 & 7 and freshman center Matt Mangene has 1 & 7.
Maine’s penalty killing has been vastly improved, limiting opponents to a 4-for-31 (.129) showing over the last seven games. The Bears’ team defense also has been better this season.
Flynn said one difference between this year and last year is, “we have a little more confidence this year.”
“We learned a lot from last year. Over the summer, the guys did a real good job improving themselves,” said House, who added they also learned some valuable lessons in their 1-5 start.
“This team has learned that wins don’t come easy,” said Whitehead. “You have to work hard day in and day out to improve and that’s why we’ve made progress. The guys have worked extremely hard, beginning last spring.”
He said that focus and hard work must continue.