ORONO — The University of Maine men’s hockey team hasn’t been a come-from-behind team in recent years.
Over the previous three seasons, Maine was 14-39-5 when it surrendered the game’s first goal and 1-36-4 when trailing after two periods.
But, so far this season, Maine is 3-1-3 when the opponents score first and 1-1-1 when trailing after two periods.
“That’s (a tribute to their) experience and leadership,” said Northeastern coach Greg Cronin, whose Huskies scored the first goal in both games past weekend and took a 2-1 lead into the third period of Saturday night’s game only to get swept by identical 4-2 scores.
“It’s also their believability (in themselves),” added Cronin.
Maine coach Tim Whitehead concurred.
“When we had that great run maintaining leads, we had a veteran crew through most of that run,” said Whitehead, referring to Maine’s 110-0-6 record when leading after two periods that ended on Nov. 19, 2006, in a 4-3 overtime loss to Boston College. “We had good, solid senior classes and that was a key in both holding leads and coming back when we were up against it. It’s tough to come back in hockey and soccer because goals are tough to come by.
“This team has confidence it can will its way back into a game and get the victory. It’s very encouraging. They’re confident they can score goals but they’re also confident in the goaltending,” said Whitehead. “Even though we had twice as many scoring chances (in each game against Northeastern), we might have tied or lost those games last year. But our goaltending is much more consistent. We’ve been getting big stops.”
“We’re a confident group,” agreed senior center and captain Tanner House. “If the other team scores the first goal, we’re not going to get too worried about it. Obviously, it’s nice (for us) to score that first goal to take a little of the pressure off. We seem to play pretty well when we’re behind. We have a little desperation. But we don’t want to be doing that all the time.”
“This shows how much the team has grown the past few years,” said senior center Robby Dee. “We’ve had a couple of tough years but, this year, we have so much more experience. We have a high-powered offense so we know we can come back from a deficit.”
“It’s good to know we can get after it and take it to another level when we need to,” said senior defenseman Mike Banwell.
The 6-1-3 Bears, ranked third in the country in both major polls, have also proven that they can hold leads.
Maine is 3-0-0 when scoring first and 4-0-1 when leading after two periods.
“It’s good to have that but a good team finds ways to win all kinds of different games. We’ve kind of had a little bit of everything this year so far,” said House.
Diamond making presence felt down low
Black Bear sophomore right winger Joey Diamond has established himself as a physical presence below the faceoff dots despite his small stature (5-foot-8, 165 pounds).
His wraparound goal, on which he fought through an NU defenseman, tied it 2-2 in the third period Saturday night and set the stage for the three-goal comeback. He scored the game-winner Friday by getting position at the top of the crease and converting an Adam Shemansky pass.
“He’s a junkyard dog with a lot of skill,” said Cronin. “He has great hockey sense and understands his way around the net. His emergence as a real threat after not playing a lot last year has given them a lot more punch.”
Diamond has nine goals in his last 12 games dating back to last season including six already this season.
“Pound for pound, he’s as tough a player as I’ve ever coached,” said Whitehead. “He’s almost unstoppable down low. He’s strong on the puck, he’s got great courage and he has a very strong stick.”
“He’s very competitive on the puck. That’s his best asset,” said Banwell. “If the puck is in the corner, he wants to come out with it. He has a lot of fight in him and that’s why he’s such an asset in front of the net. He gets right in front of the goalie. He never gives up on the puck.”
House called the front of an opponent’s net and the area around it Diamond’s “office.”
“He’s so strong on the puck down low and he does a really good job getting body position,” said House. “He’ll steal the puck, hang on to it and take it to the net.”
Banwell said Diamond is an inspiration for the team the way he battles for the puck.
Diamond said they do a lot of work on “one-on-ones down low in practice and that really helps when it comes to game time.
“That’s my comfort zone down there,” said Diamond. “That’s where I feel the most confident.
“(Whitehead) put me in front on the power play last year and I really embraced it. It took me a while to get used to it but I enjoy it now. I enjoy screening the goalie and stuff like that,” said Diamond. “I like being in those gritty areas.”
Diamond said he tries to follow the puck “and get off to a quick start” tracking it down behind the net.
“I try to get to it quick, keep my feet moving and make a quick decision (with it),” said Diamond.