Maine hockey team hoping to squeeze into fourth place

Posted March 03, 2011, at 8:19 p.m.

The University of Maine’s men’s hockey team knows it will probably finish fifth in Hockey East and travel for a best-of-three Hockey East quarterfinal series against the fourth seed in two weekends.

But the Black Bears, who travel to UMass for a regular season-ending two-game series this weekend, also know there is still a remote chance they could squeeze into the fourth spot.

For that to happen, Maine would have to accrue three more points than Merrimack College this weekend. Teams earn two points for a win and one for a tie.

Merrimack plays a home-and-home series against a ninth-place Providence College team that hasn’t won a Hockey East game since Nov. 5.

Providence is two points behind UMass in the battle for the eighth and last playoff spot. Vermont is one point ahead of UMass.

The Black Bears are in the midst of their longest winning streak, five games, since they won five straight from Nov. 27-Dec. 12, 2009.

“We’re on a roll and we just want to keep it going,” said Maine senior defenseman and assistant captain Jeff Dimmen. “There’s still a glimmer of hope for home ice. But, if not, we want to keep our momentum going for the playoffs. That would be huge. We want to keep that confidence going.”

“We feel like we’ve been playing pretty solid hockey and we definitely want to keep it going into the playoffs,” said Maine sophomore defenseman Mark Nemec.

Senior center and captain Tanner House said it is vital that the Bears  “keep getting better and work on those little things like getting the pucks into the offensive zone and getting them out of the defensive zone. We’ve got to be consistent as we can protecting our net.”

The Black Bears will try to end an eight-game losing streak at the Mullins Center, which is just shy of an Olympic-sized ice rink at 200 feet by 95 feet. An Olympic sheet is 200-by-100. Maine’s Alfond Arena is 200-by-85.

Maine lost to New Hampshire 6-3 and 5-4 on UNH’s Olympic-sized sheet.

Maine practiced at the University of Southern Maine’s Olympic-sized rink in Gorham on Thursday en route to Amherst, Mass.

“That will definitely be beneficial. It’ll help to get used to the width,” said Nemec.

“The angles are different. You have a little more time with the puck. We’ve struggled in the past there but I like our team on the big sheet more than the other teams I’ve been on here,” said House. “We’re all excited to go down there and see what we can do.”

“We’re a little deeper and we’ve got a little better skating team than we’ve had in the past. That will help us on the big sheet,” agreed Dimmen.

“We have more experience,” said Maine junior left wing Spencer Abbott. “We’ll be fine down there.”

Maine freshman goalie Dan Sullivan, who has allowed just one goal in the last four games and now owns the school record for scoreless minutes (202:49), said he hasn’t played on an Olympic-sized sheet in “a while.

“I actually think it slows the game down a little bit. There’s so much room out there,” said Sullivan. “We’ll see. I don’t think it’s going to be too much of a factor.”

House and Nemec said one of the keys, defensively, will be to stay between the face-off dots.

“You can get stretched out pretty easily. You’ve got to work on staying tight,” said House.

“If you let them get inside on you, it’s tough to get it back,” said Nemec.

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