ORONO — If the first six games are any indication of the way the season is going to go, the University of Maine’s men’s hockey team is going to involved in a lot of nail-biters.
And last weekend’s 5-4 (overtime) and 3-1 sweep of Providence College could provide the Black Bears with an important boost of confidence entering this weekend’s difficult road games against Boston College and New Hampshire.
Maine has either been tied, ahead by a goal or behind by a goal at some stage of the third period in five of its six games.
“I told them they’re going to be in a lot of these games this season so they have to get used to it,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead.
The Black Bears were in a ton of seat-squirmers last year.
Twenty of Maine’s 36 games were decided by two goals or less including seven ties.
The Bears had games in which they came from behind to win or earn ties but there was a more extensive list of games in which they gave away points.
Maine surrendered six goals in the last 5:17 of regulation that transformed three potential wins into ties and three potential ties into losses. In two losses to archrival New Hampshire, the Wildcats tied one game with 18 seconds left before winning in overtime and scored a game-winner with 16 seconds remaining.
The weekend wins over Providence came in two different ways. Maine blew three one-goal leads in Friday night’s game before winning in overtime and protected a one-goal lead for 39:37 in the second game before adding an empty-net goal.
Senior defenseman Ryan Hegarty said they learned on the first night that “even if things aren’t going your way, you’ve got to keep battling. The second night was more important because we’re a good team and we’re going to get up on teams and being able to hold those leads are really important.
“Last weekend was really good for our mentality. You’ve got to win those tight one-goal games because pretty much every game in Hockey East is going to be like that,” he added.
“If we want to go far this year, those (close) games are the types of games we’re going to have to win,” said junior center Klas Leidermark. “Now we know we can win those games. We let games slip away last year.”
Junior defenseman Nick Pryor said last year was frustrating.
“It’s good for us to have these tight games early because it has brought out the character and hard work this team has,” Pryor said. “These are the types of wins we want. We want other teams to know we’re never going to give up.”
The team has learned from past mistakes, junior defenseman Matt Mangene said.
“Every point is huge in Hockey East. If you look at the scores, just about every Hockey East game this past weekend was close,” he said. “We know what to do. You can’t panic, you’ve got to keep playing your game and your systems. We have to stay focused. You don’t want to give up leads in the third period because it gives the momentum to the other team.”
PRYOR GETTING BETTER
Pryor left the game dangling his injured shoulder late in the second period of Saturday night’s game after going awkwardly into the boards behind he net.
But he returned for the third period.
“It was just a freak incident. I lost my footing going into the boards,” said Pryor, who missed half of his freshman season due to a hip injury that required surgery and missed half of last season with a concussion. “At first, I thought it was a lot worse than it actually was. But once I got off the ice, took a deep breath and figured out I was getting better by the minute, I realized it was just a contusion (and not a dislocation).
“It’s pretty sore today but I expect to be healthy for Friday,” added Pryor.
“I was really impressed,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “He was hurting bad but came out and gave us some great minutes in the third period.”
MANGENE EARNS FIRST HONOR
Mangene was named the Hockey East Co-Player of the Week, the first time in his career he has received any kind of award from the league.
He had a goal and four assists in the sweep of Providence.
“What a weekend for Matt Mangene!” said Whitehead. “He was just a horse out there… the way he can skate. And he could do it every other shift when we shortened the bench and he did it without turning the puck over. He made some strong plays both offensively and defensively.”