The University of Maine women’s hockey team’s 8-7-4 start under first-year coach Maria Lewis is the program’s best since the Black Bears went 10-4-5 through their first 19 games in the 2005-2006 season. Maine is 2-3-2 in Hockey East play including a 4-1 win over New Hampshire that snapped UNH’s 28-game unbeaten streak (25-0-3) against Maine and two ties against a Northeastern University team now ranked 10th in the nation.
Two of Maine’s losses came at the hands of Mercyhurst, which is ranked fourth in the country.
Maine’s eight wins are already more than they had in each of the last three seasons. They went 15-70-13 in those three seasons.
Lewis, who replaced Dan Lichterman, said she is happy with the start but she isn’t satisfied, either.
“I didn’t know what to expect. It’s always tough when a new coaching staff comes in and implements some new things,” said Lewis. “But after seeing what the players are capable of, I’m not happy with only eight wins. I want to see more.”
Junior defenseman Ashley Norum admitted they lost a few games they should have won but called their start “awesome.
“We had only six wins wins last year and we’ve already exceeded that,” said Norum. “Our goal is to make the (Hockey East) playoffs and to do that we knew we needed to start off really well. We’ve done that.”
“We’re all really excited about our start. We want to keep it going,” said senior right wing Kaitlin Zeek. “We’re excited to get back.”
Norum and Zeek said Lewis has played an important role in their start.
“She’s a real good communicator,” said Norum. “She really talks to the team. She gets us all on the same page and brings us together.”
“We all feel very comfortable with her,” said Zeek. “She believes in us and that has really helped us. We keep getting better every day.
“The (coaching) change came at the right time,” added Zeek.
“We want them to be excited about coming to the rink. Hockey is meant to be fun,” said Lewis, who helped build nationally-ranked programs at Mercyhurst (Pa.) and North Dakota as an assistant coach.
Maine already has five players with at least 13 points after having just four all of last season.
Sophomore center Brittany Dougherty had nine points last season but she already has a team-high 22 on 10 goals and 12 assists. Senior left wing Jennie Gallo has 17 points (10 & 7), two more than she had all of last season. Junior right wing Myriam Croussette’s 17 points (8 & 9) are six more than she tallied in 2009-2010 and junior left wing Dawn Sullivan has nearly doubled her 2009-2010 output with 13 points (5 & 8), six more than a year ago. Junior center Dominique Goutsis’s nine points (3 & 6) are four more than her total from last year.
Lewis said her defense corps has played “better than expected” with Norum (1 & 8) and sophomore Chloe Tinkler (2 & 4) being the top point-getters along the blue line. Senior Madelene Eriksson (no points), junior Melissa Gagnon (0 & 5) and freshmen Kayla Kaluzny (1 & 5) and Kelly McDonald (0 & 2) have also been effective as Maine has limited opponents to 2.17 goals per game.
Norum and Tinkler had four and two points, respectively, a year ago.
Another reason Maine has been stingy has been the goaltending of Brittany Ott (6-6-3, 2.30 goals-against average, .931 save percentage).
“She has stood on her head multiple times,” said Norum.
“Our goaltending has been solid,” said Lewis, who used backup Candice Currier last weekend in a 2-2 tie and 2-1 win over Union.
“I wanted to get Candice some work. She is capable,” said Lewis.
Lewis said the three players who have been the most pleasant surprises have been junior right wing Danielle Ward (7 & 9), a transfer from the University of Southern Maine, along with Norum and freshman center Missy Denk (2 & 2).
The players said players all get along well with each other and the win over New Hampshire gave them a big boost of confidence.
Lewis said she would like her team to “tighten things up defensively, generate more good scoring chances and capitalize on them” in the second half.
Maine’s final 14 games are all Hockey East games beginning with a Jan. 2-3 home series with 13-5-1 Providence College, ranked tied for eighth in the country with North Dakota.
She said the semester break has come “at a real good time for us,” as several players have nagging injuries.