ORONO — The University of Maine men’s hockey team hasn’t had much success at the University of New Hampshire’s Whittemore Center. Maine has lost the last six meetings in Durham by a combined score of 19-7. The Black Bears are 2-12-1 in the last 15 games there and have an all-time record of 6-15-1.
Maine’s last win was a 3-1 triumph on Feb. 4, 2005.
But the 11-7-6 Black Bears (8-5-4 in Hockey East) are in desperate need of wins if they are to climb back into the NCAA Tournament picture and they will have a chance to do so when they face the 15-5-4 Wildcats (13-2-2 in Hockey East) for a two-game set in Durham Friday and Saturday nights.
“We’ve got to change that (trend) this weekend,” said Maine senior defenseman Josh Van Dyk. “They’re a good team. We can’t have any breakdowns. They’re very offensive. They can put the puck in the net. They’ll make you pay if you make any mistakes.”
UNH is ninth in the nation in scoring at 3.54 goals per game.
The Bears will be without sophomore right winger Joey Diamond for the Friday night game because he has been suspended by Hockey East.
Maine coach Tim Whitehead learned Thursday morning that Hockey East Commissioner Joe Bertagna suspended Diamond for one game for kicking the legs out from under BU goalie Kieran Millan during last Friday night’s game in Orono. Diamond received a two-minute minor penalty for hitting after the whistle.
Whitehead said the suspension caught him by surprise and that he preferred not to comment on it or the late notification of it until the league releases a statement on Friday morning.
Maine isn’t the only Hockey East team that has problems at the Whittemore Center, which is 15 feet wider than Alfond Arena.
UNH is 21-1-7 in its last 29 Hockey East regular season games in Durham.
“They’re obviously very good at home,” said Maine senior center and captain Tanner House. “They practice on the big ice sheet all the time so they’re comfortable there. Their fans are behind them. The biggest thing for us is to stick to our game plan. We have to make sure we do the little things and be consistent with them.”
Those “little things” entail making smart decisions with the puck, dumping it into the offensive zone and back-checking with a sense of urgency, particularly against the prolific senior line of Phil DeSimone between Paul Thompson and Mike Sislo.
UNH is very dangerous on the rush and in transition.
“You have to watch all five players on the rush,” said Maine freshman goalie Martin Ouellette. “And their team likes to shoot from everywhere.”
Maine junior right wing Gustav Nyquist said the wider ice sheet shouldn’t require a significant adjustment.
“It’s a little different but we’re an experienced team,” he said. “The freshmen may struggle in the first period. There’s more room out there and that’s good for us. We’re a good skating team.
“I’m looking forward to it. The games are going to be sold out. It’ll be fun,” added Nyquist.
UNH coach Dick Umile downplayed his team’s home record against Maine.
“I expect two great games that will go down to the wire,” said Umile. “Maine is playing well. They have (Will) O’Neill and (Jeff) Dimmen back and that has made a big difference and helped them get their power play going. If they get the goaltending, look out. And I thought Ouellette played well last weekend (1-1 tie with Boston University).”
Dimmen and O’Neill were sidelined due to injury when UNH rallied for a 4-3 overtime win at Maine on Dec. 10.
UNH leading scorer Thompson said they consider Maine their chief rival.
“Nothing comes close to the rivalry between us and Maine,” said Thompson. “It’s one of the best rivalries in college hockey. Emotions will be high. Both teams will bring their best efforts. They’re a very skilled team. We’re going to have our hands full.”