UMaine’s O’Neill returns for Florida hockey tourney

Posted Dec. 28, 2010, at 8:20 p.m.
Last modified Dec. 28, 2010, at 8:49 p.m.

Last season, University of Maine men’s hockey defensemen Will O’Neill and Jeff Dimmen combined for 61 points.

The University of Wisconsin defense duo of Hobey Baker Award finalist Brendan Smith and Justin Schultz were the only set to outscore the Black Bear pair with their 74 points, 52 by Smith.

O’Neill will return to the lineup for the first time since Nov. 6 and Dimmen has an outside chance to play in his first game since Nov. 19 when the ninth-ranked Black Bears (8-4-4) take on No. 6 Miami of Ohio (10-5-3) Wednesday at 7:35 p.m. in the opening round of the Florida College Classic.

St. Cloud State (5-11-2) and Cornell (4-6-1) open the tournament at 4:05.

The consolation game is Thursday at 4:05 with the championship game to follow in the 11th annual tourney.

Maine is the defending champ.

Junior O’Neill suffered a knee injury on the first shift of the 2-2 overtime tie at Boston University on Nov. 6, and senior Dimmen aggravated an ankle injury in the 4-0 loss at Boston College on Nov. 19.

“I’m so excited to get back into the lineup,” said O’Neill. “I can’t wait. I skated every day over the break. I’m raring to go.”

Dimmen has skated for just four days, which is why his return is in doubt.

“I’m feeling better. I’ve tried to stay off it. I rested it at home during the break, and I got treatment for it,” said Dimmen.

O’Neill and Dimmen were two key components on the point for Maine’s No. 1-ranked power play a year ago (27.7 percent success rate). O’Neill had 22 (6 goals, 16 assists) of his 31 points on the power play and Dimmen had 17 (6 & 11) of his 30 with the man advantage. O’Neill had 1 & 4 overall in eight games this season Dimmen had 2 & 3 in 11.

While the two were sidelined, Maine went through an 0-for-33 stretch with the man advantage. Maine is ranked 34th in the country at 16.5 percent.

“To get one or both of them back would give us a huge lift,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “They’re arguably two of the best defensemen in the country and we missed them dearly, especially on the power play, the penalty kill and in the first and last minutes of a game. They’re elite players in all situations.”

“They would also give us another veteran presence on defense,” said senior center and captain Tanner House.

O’Neill and Dimmen said it was tough to sit out.

“It was difficult to watch,” said O’Neill. “It’s tough to go right from the fire into not doing anything.”

“I learned how much I love being out there. Sometimes you take it for granted,” said Dimmen, an All-Hockey East second-teamer last year.

O’Neill said the power-play woes can be attributed to inexperience.

“(Josh Van Dyk) wasn’t on his normal unit and (Matt) Mangene and Nick Pryor were put in positions they hadn’t been in before,” said O’Neill. “It  takes time. I had time (on the power play) at the end of my freshman season and at the beginning of last season.

“But I thought the team made up for it in a lot of other ways and that really helped us. We really stepped it up on the penalty kill or in other aspects of the game and that’s a huge credit to the guys on the team.”

O’Neill is hoping to bring energy to the team.

“This is going to be like opening night for me,” he said.

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