ORONO — The University of Maine men’s hockey team didn’t expect to be just 1-1-2 after its first four games, especially after a resounding game-opening 8-2 win over UMass Lowell.
But the Black Bears have scored only two even-strength goals in their last three games: a 3-3 overtime tie against UConn and a 4-4 tie and 3-2 loss at Michigan State last Thursday and Friday.
Maine has also taken costly penalties, allowed four power-play goals on just 13 chances in the two ties and been unable to score on the power play at critical times. In fact, Michigan State’s tying goal in the first game was shorthanded.
Maine went 5-for-23 on the power play during the three-game winless streak.
Maine’s top line of senior captain Tanner House between juniors Gustav Nyquist and Brian Flynn will be looking to get untracked at home this weekend against the nation’s second-ranked team, the University of North Dakota’s Fighting Sioux.
That line has just one goal and two assists in even-strength situations so far.
House has three goals (even-strength, power play, shorthanded) and a power-play assist; Flynn has a shorthanded goal and an even-strength assist and Nyquist has five assists (3 PP, 1 SH, 1 even strength).
“We’re getting chances. Maybe we haven’t had the most puck luck,” said House. “We need to simplify things a little bit. We need to get back to driving the net and shooting a little more.”
“We’ve all hit a few pipes,” said Nyquist. “It has been unreal. Obviously, we have to try to help the team out as much as possible.
“We learned a lot this weekend,” added Nyquist. “Although we’re a good team, nothing is going to come easy for us. Every game is going to be tough.”
“We have to play a full 60 minutes. We can’t take shifts off,” said House.
Nyquist, Flynn and House were Maine’s top three scorers a year ago, respectively, as they combined for 56 goals and 91 assists.
“They’ve been generating a lot of chances,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “They’ve been snakebitten. I’m confident the goals will come.”
However, Whitehead also said he is contemplating breaking up all of his lines.
Maine senior defenseman Jeff Dimmen said the team has to “get back to basics.
“We’ve got to get everyone on the same page and start playing our brand of hockey: getting the puck in deep (into the offensive zone), pressuring the defensemen and outworking them. We’re trying to be a little bit too creative and that has led to turnovers and problems for us.”
Dimmen also said “when we have chances in the slot, a lot of the time we’re not shooting. We’re trying to make pretty plays. We’ve got to score gritty goals. We’ll score some pretty goals but it’s the gritty goals that win hockey games.”
The line that has been carrying the Bears has been the trio of senior Robby Dee (3 goals, 2 assists) between junior Spencer Abbott (4 & 3) and sophomore Joey Diamond (3 & 2).
Nyquist noted that “we’ve been taking a lot of stupid penalties and that has cost us.” It not only stunts their attack, it tires out the players, he added.
Whitehead and the players said they have to simplify the power play and that they were encouraged by the penalty-killing in the second MSU game. MSU went 0-for-7, including a full two-minute 5-on-3.
Michigan State coach Rick Comley said he feels the Black Bears will be a “factor” in the national picture.
“I like their team,” said Comley, who was pleased with his team’s performance and the job it did on Maine’s top line. “Maine is going to score goals. I like their team speed and they have seven or eight really skilled players. Nyquist is a great player. People wondered about their goaltending but I think it’s going to be pretty solid.”
Whitehead and the Maine players agreed that the goaltending of Shawn Sirman, Dan Sullivan and Martin Ouellette has been a positive.
“We’re happy with what we’ve seen so far,” said House.
“They’re actually a little ahead of schedule,” said Whitehead.
Sullivan making transition
Freshman Sullivan got his first college start in front of 5,679 at Munn Arena Friday and finished with 18 saves on 21 shots.
“I thought I played relatively well although I would have liked to have had all of the goals back,” said Sullivan. “”The pace of the game didn’t seem too much faster than what I’m used to. Practicing with the caliber of shooters we have has really helped me get adjusted to the pace. The guys were very supportive of me.”
He said the crowd was the largest he has ever played in front of but he didn’t find it nerve-wracking.
“I was more nervous in front of the home crowd,” said Sullivan, who got some mop-up duty in the UMass Lowell win at Alfond Arena. “There may have been more people than we had at home but the atmosphere wasn’t as good. People weren’t hanging over you like they do at the Alfond and they weren’t as loud. I felt pretty comfortable out there.”