ORONO — Hockey can be a game of bounces.
University of Maine senior defenseman Josh Van Dyk can attest to that.
With three seconds left in overtime during Saturday night’s game against Boston University, he found himself staring at a half-empty net when Matt Mangene snapped a diagonal pass from the top of the left circle to him.
Van Dyk, positioned at the base of the right circle, had his stick raised in shooting position. But the quick-moving puck eluded him as he fanned on his one-timer and the game wound up 1-1.
“It was an unfamiliar spot for me. I’m not used to taking a (one-timer) from there,” said Van Dyk, who usually takes his one-timers from the point.
“Obviously, I want that one back. I had nightmares about it Saturday night.”
The 11-7-6 Black Bears, who are 8-5-4 in Hockey East play and currently in fifth place, have certainly had their share of bad bounces.
But the bottom line is that they are 20th in the PairWise Rankings which mimic the NCAA Tournament Selection process.
Sixteen teams qualify: the five conference tournament champions and 11 at-large teams.
In their seven losses, they have been outscored 11-3 in the third period despite outshooting their opponents 85-46.
Maine’s save percentage in those third periods is .761 compared to the opponents’ .965.
That indicates that the Bears aren’t scoring insurance goals, they’re having costly defensive lapses and their goalies aren’t coming up with the crucial saves they need.
The Bears have also had their problems with the league’s upper echelon.
They are 1-5-2 against the four teams ahead of them in the standings: Boston College, New Hampshire, Boston University and Merrimack.
BC is 6-4 against the other teams in the top five, New Hampshire is 4-2, Merrimack is 4-2-2 and BU is 3-5-4.
Maine outshot BU 79-47 over the weekend but suffered a 4-3 loss on Friday night before Saturday’s tie.
“I’m not going to get caught up in statistics,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “We’re playing great hockey. We just need to add a piece or two to the puzzle to go on a run.
“There were a lot of positives to take from the weekend. It’s disappointing to take just one out of a possible four points when you play that well,” he added. “We just have to persevere. If we can be as consistent as we were over the weekend, points will come our way.”
He was particularly pleased with Saturday’s defensive performance as Maine held BU to three Grade-A (high-percentage) shots on goal.
“If we play like we did Saturday night, we’ll do well the rest of the season,” said Van Dyk. “The puck will start going in the net for us. We’ve just got to work that much harder to get second shots.”
Senior center Robby Dee said the team needs to find a way to beat the top teams. “Sometimes things don’t go your way. If we keep playing hard like we did last weekend and control the things we can control, we’ll be fine,” he said.
Whitehead said his team has run into “hot goalies,” particularly against the top four teams, but he feels his young goaltenders are improving and will get the job done down the stretch and in the years to come.
Freshman Martin Ouellette made 19 saves in the 1-1 tie.
The Black Bears will travel to New Hampshire for a pair this weekend at the Whittemore Center, where they have lost six straight.
“I know we’ll be underdogs, but the objective will be to steal as many points as we can,” said Whitehead. “They have a great team, they’re very well coached and they have an excellent crowd.”
Junior defenseman Will O’Neill said they can’t dwell on their past failings in Durham.
“This is a new team and this is a really good opportunity for us. It’s a TV game, so everyone will be hyped up. We need these points as bad as anybody, so we’ll be playing desperate hockey. And when we play desperate, we play our best,” said O’Neill.
Van Dyk added, “It’s a great rivalry. They have a great team, but if we play the way we did on Saturday night, we’re capable of winning.”
Penalty-killing stays strong
Maine’s penalty-killing has continued its dramatic improvement.
By killing off all 12 BU penalties over the weekend, Maine has now killed off 30 of 32 over the last seven games.
“We have focused on it a lot in practice,” said Van Dyk.
Injured players to miss UNH set
Whitehead doesn’t expect to get any of his five injured players back this weekend.
Freshman goalie Dan Sullivan and sophomore center Klas Leidermark are out with knee injuries, sophomore winger Adam Shemansky and sophomore defenseman Nick Pryor are sidelined with concussions and redshirt freshman center Kelen Corkum is out with a hip flexor.