ORONO — Nine days ago, the University of Maine men’s hockey team was dealt an embarrassing 7-1 loss at Merrimack.
It was the worst loss since a 6-0 setback at UMass Lowell on March 7, 2009.
But the Bears used that as motivation this weekend, responding with a 4-3 overtime win over Providence in which they outshot the Friars 39-17, on Friday night and an even more impressive 4-1 victory over the defending national champion and No. 3-ranked Boston College Eagles on Sunday evening.
Maine hadn’t beaten BC since Nov. 9, 2008. Maine had gone 0-7-1 against the Eagles, including 4-0 and 4-1 losses at BC on Nov. 19-21.
“(The Merrimack loss) was a definite wakeup call for us,” said senior defenseman Josh Van Dyk. “Work ethic was the difference. If you compare the games, it was like night and day.
“I wish we hadn’t needed a wakeup call but, sometimes, it’s good for you. Now we have to sustain it the rest of the year,” Van Dyk added.
“We talked about it after the BC game,” said sophomore defenseman/forward Matt Mangene. “It was actually a good thing we we got smoked 7-1 instead of losing a close 3-1 game. It made us realize we have to start pushing now. And we have to continue next weekend at Northeastern (Saturday night).”
“I was very excited by the strong back-to-back performances. It gives us a lot to build on,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead, whose decision to give sophomore goalie Shawn Sirman his first start since Dec. 3 paid dividends.
Sirman responded with a sparkling 25-save performance, including a save off Pat Mullane’s penalty shot late in the second period.
Freshman Dan Sullivan is sidelined with a knee injury and fellow freshman Martin Ouellette allowed a pair of soft goals vs. Providence.
“It was a gut feeling he was ready to play,” said Whitehead. “I talked to my staff, of course.”
“I told him at the beginning of the week to be ready and to put himself in position to play. I didn’t know how the week would go,” Whitehead added. “We learned a lot last year with David Wilson. If you haven’t played in a while but practiced well and were ready to go, you can rise up. And David showed that.”
Wilson won three playoff games after replacing the suspended Scott Darling.
“Shawn played very well. He was poised and aggressive but he was in control. He made some tremendous saves. He made a couple in particular off rebound flurries. He stayed calm,” said Whitehead.
His glove save off Mullane’s backhander with Maine leading 4-0 was pivotal.
“If he had scored, it could have turned the tide for them,” said Whitehead. “Shawn kept his glove up, he stayed patient and didn’t bite on the fake.
“He elevated his game at the right time. I’m very happy for him. I’m proud of his performance.”
Penalty-killing is improving
Maine’s penalty-killing has started to come around after a dismal start.
Maine has killed off 12 of the last 13 power plays spanning four games.
The Black Bears killed off a seven-minute power play and scored a shorthanded goal against Providence. The Friars took a minor penalty early in the power play to make it a four-on-four for two minutes.
Maine has have killed off 29 of the last 33 power plays for an 87.9 percent success rate over the last nine games.
“We’ve been working hard on it,” said Van Dyk. “We’re trying some new things. We’re putting pressure on the opposing power-play players to force them into making mistakes.
“It’s working for us right now and we’ve got to keep playing like that,” he added.
“The penalty kill has been huge for us,” said Mangene. “We had that seven-minute penalty kill on Friday and we not only killed it, we scored a goal (by freshman Jon Swavely),” said Mangene. “The key is speed, being aggressive and working hard. We get on the puck as quickly as we can. We try not to let them set up.”
“We’ve made good strides there,” said Whitehead. “It’s something we will continue to work on throughout the second half. We’ve blocked a lot of shots. We’re getting in the shooting lanes quick and we’re a little more aggressive on the forecheck which helps us kill off some time.
“We’ve also done a much better job keeping our heads on a swivel and eliminating the back door (play),” added Whitehead.
He also said the team’s discipline has been “really good.
“A lot of that comes from our junior and senior leadership,” he added.
Maine also has a string of six games with a power play goal after snapping an 0-for-33 famine.
Maine is 6-for-29.
Maine went 2-for-7 on the power play against Providence and BC and held them 0-for-8.
“We had more shots and scoring chances than BC down there earlier but they won the special teams game,” said Whitehead whose team went 0-for-12 in the two losses while BC went 3-for-7.
Maine had one power-play goal in three chances vs. BC while the Eagles went 0-for-4.
“Our number one objective against BC was to win the special teams battle,” he said. “We were pleased with that.”