The University of Maine men’s hockey team sent out mixed messages over the weekend.
And the Black Bears also received a useful wake-up call.
Maine followed an impressive 8-2 victory over UMass Lowell with a disappointing 3-3 tie against nonscholarship UConn.
“We’ve got to come ready to play every night right from the start,” said senior defenseman and assistant captain Jeff Dimmen. “We can’t afford to take anybody lightly.”
“We have to tighten up defensively,” said junior left wing Spencer Abbott. “We have all the offense we need to make things happen. As long as we play well defensively, we should be good for the rest of the season.”
Maine was 47th among 58 NCAA Division I teams in defense a year ago, allowing 3.33 goals per game.
Maine allowed a total of just two Grade-A shot attempts by UConn in the third period and the five-minute overtime and only one of them went on goal. But that shot, by a wide-open Sean Ambrosie in the slot, produced the 3-3 tie.
Special teams play was a low-light, but the Maine players feel confident that will improve.
The Black Bears, who returned nine of the 10 players who manned the top two units on the nation’s best power play a year ago (27.7 percent), went just 1-for-12 with the man-advantage over the weekend and wasted two 5-on-3s against UConn.
However, they did generate a combined 27 shots on goal on the power play.
And the penalty-killing woes continued as UML and UConn went a combined 3-for-11. Maine’s 80.1 percent penalty-killing efficiency was 40th last season.
Maine did score two shorthanded goals against UConn.
UConn had the nation’s worst power play a year ago but scored twice in five tries and had nine shots on goal. UMass Lowell went 1-for-6 with eight shots.
“We’ve been snake-bitten on the power play,” said Jeff Dimmen. “We’ve hit a lot of posts. I think it will all come around. It hasn’t been very crisp. We’ve got to get more pucks on net. We need to score dirty goals. We’re trying to be too fancy.
We’ve got to keep working on it.”
Maine hit six posts against UConn and most came on the power play.
“We’ve got to get more quality shots on net on the power play and make sure we have traffic in front. (If we do) I think things will start going in,” said Abbott.
“We didn’t get the bounces (on the power play) against UConn,” said junior right wing Gustav Nyquist. “But we’ve got to learn to fight through those situations.”
Senior center and captain Tanner House said he isn’t too worried about the power play.
“We had a lot of chances. We hit crossbars, back-to-back, on a 5-on-3,” said House. “We’ve got to make sure we work hard in front of the net to create rebound opportunities. If the first shot doesn’t go in, we’ve got to bang home the rebound. We also need to simplify things and work hard down low.”
As for the penalty kill, Abbott said, “We need to get in the shooting lanes.”
“I think everything will fall into place (on the special teams),” Dimmen added.
“We were concerned about it before the season started. It isn’t there yet,” said House. “It’s going to take some time. We’re working hard on it.”
Maine coach Tim Whitehead said he was disappointed with some of the penalties taken by his Bears against UConn, including two by Dimmen in the first 5:03, and with the penalty-killing.
“The penalties cost us, and the penalty-killers weren’t able to keep the puck out of our net,” said Whitehead.
But he also credited the Huskies for their ability to stick to their defense-oriented system, their discipline and shot-blocking, not to mention the tremendous 40-save performance turned in by sophomore goalie Garrett Bartus.
“It was a very gutsy effort by them. They fought their way to that tie,” said Whitehead, who felt his Bears would have won the game if they had been able to establish a two-goal lead.
The Black Bears will visit Michigan State for a Thursday-Friday night series.
The Spartans lost an exhibition game 5-3 to Western Ontario last weekend despite outshooting them 46-25.