University of Maine sophomore goalie Scott Darling, who suffered a sprained medial collateral knee ligament in a 4-2 win over Merrimack College on Jan. 9, said he is “”99 percent” sure he will be able to return to the lineup for Maine’s next Hockey East games against the University of Vermont on Jan. 29-30.
“I skated [Tuesday] without my equipment and I was wheeling around pretty good,” said Darling, who was injured when a Merrimack player slid into him during the third period.
“I was down in the butterfly and we hit knee to knee,” explained Darling, who was attended to by Maine athletic trainer Paul Culina and finished the game.
Darling said he has been working out diligently to rehabilitate the knee so he will be ready for the Vermont series.
In addition to doing a series of exercises for the knee, he has been spending time in UMaine’s aquatic therapy and fitness pool.
Darling speculated that he will be ready to practice in full gear by next Wednesday and said it only takes a day or two to return to form.
“It’s just like riding a bike,” said Darling referring to the fact he doesn’t anticipating any major stumbling blocks once he returns.
After a slow start, Darling had been playing exceptional hockey of late.
He held opponents to two goals or less in seven of his last eight starts, lowering his goals-against average to 2.62 and raising his save percentage to .910.
During Maine’s nine-game unbeaten streak (7-0-2), Darling had a 2.04 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage.
Freshman Shawn Sirman started in his place against Boston College and Providence College last weekend, allowing eight goals on 48 shots in a 6-1 loss to BC (22 saves, 5 goals) and a 3-2 loss at Providence (18 saves, 3 goals).
Senior Dave Wilson came on in the third period of each game and finished with 16 stops while allowing just one goal.
Wilson played the entire game in the 4-1 exhibition win over the University of New Brunswick on Tuesday night in Orono and made 20 saves.
Sirman is likely to get the start in the exhibition game against the United States National Team Development Program’s Under-18 club Saturday night at Alfond Arena.
“It would be great if Scott is ready to go against Vermont. It would give us a nice lift. But we aren’t going to rush it,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead.
Darling was one of five injured Black Bears who sat out the New Brunswick exhibition.
Whitehead said freshman center Matt Mangene (1 goal, 7 assists) will be sidelined for at least six weeks with a torn triceps muscle; sophomore center Kyle Solomon (1 & 3) is out indefinitely with complications from a groin injury; junior center Robby Dee (8 & 8) remains sidelined with a broken bone in his foot and junior de-fenseman and assistant captain Jeff Dimmen (3 & 9) rested an ailing hip.
Dimmen will be back for the Vermont series and could even play Saturday but Whitehead doesn’t feel Solomon or Dee will be ready for the Vermont series.
He is hoping to regain the services of Dee and Solomon for the home series against New Hampshire on Feb. 5-6.
Dee currently has a boot on his right foot while Solomon hasn’t been cleared to return to practice yet.
Mangene might make it back for the playoffs unless he has to have surgery.
Whitehead said Dee had “really emerged” into an outstanding two-way center and valuable power-play performer this year.
Managene, according to Whitehead, has been a “great all-around player” whose speed and defensive prowess have made him a “great asset” to our team. He is regarded as their fastest skater and a top-notch penalty-killer.
Solomon has been a valuable hard-nosed center and penalty-killer, added Whitehead.
Due to the injuries, the Maine coach said, “everyone is going to have to elevate their games to pick up the slack. We got a taste of that against New Brunswick. A lot of guys elevated their games. We’re going to have to fast-track guys into roles we realize they may not be ready for.
“It’s going to be a great experience for them and, win, lose or draw, we’re going to be a stronger team down the road. They’re going to get valuable experience.”