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UMaine men’s hockey hosts U.S. Under-18 team Wednesday night

Derek Davis | BDN
Derek Davis | BDN
Jon Swavely (right) of the University of Maine can't connect as he tries to put in the rebound of a shot saved by Matt McNeely (left) of the U.S. Under-18 team Sunday, Jan. 2, 2011. The Black Bears' Theo Andersson (second left) and USA's Michael Paliotta look on. UMaine won 5-1. The teams square off again Wednesday at Alfond Arena in Orono.
By Larry Mahoney, BDN Staff

ORONO, Maine — Normally, the University of Maine men’s hockey team would approach a midweek exhibition game against the U.S. National Team Development Program’s Under-18 team as a chance to experiment.

The game doesn’t count on Maine’s record, so it gives Maine head coach Tim Whitehead and his staff an opportunity to mix up their lines and defense tandems and use players in situations they don’t usually find themselves in such as on the power play or penalty kill.

But since the Bears haven’t won a game in the month of November, going 0-4-1, it alters the mindset.

“The timing of the game is such that because we’re coming off a tough stretch of results, we will probably experiment less than we would have if we had won those games,” said Whitehead, whose Bears will host the Under-18s at 7 Wednesday night at Alfond Arena.

“At this point, we can’t afford to take anybody lightly,” said Maine junior defenseman and assistant captain Mike Cornell. “We need to take momentum from wherever we can get it.”

Maine will have four games left leading up to the Christmas break — a nonleague game against ECAC Hockey League member Clarkson in Portland on Saturday, two Hockey East games at Vermont on Dec. 2-3, and a league home game against Boston University on Dec. 10.

“It’s going to be a good game,” said Maine junior right wing Joey Diamond. “It’s always nice to have the development program come here and play. I’m excited to get back on the Alfond Arena ice.”

“They will have some really good, skilled players,” said Maine senior defenseman Ryan Hegarty, who formerly played in the National Team Development Program and played against Maine when he was with the Under-18s. “It’s always fun.”

Freshman center Stu Higgins and junior defenseman Nick Pryor also played in the program.

Hegarty said he was looking forward to seeing some of the support staff who were in Ann Arbor, Mich., when he was there. That is where the program is based.

“We’re going to approach it the same way we approached the New Brunswick [exhibition] game [on Oct. 2],” said Whitehead. “We always play to win, but we want to make sure everyone plays and has an opportunity to contribute in all situations. This is a rare opportunity to look at our young players in game situations.”

Maine beat New Brunswick 7-3.

Players such as Pietro Antonelli and Billy Norman have yet to play in a regular-season game and will be included in the lineup since it’s an exhibition game and both teams can dress extra skaters. The game also wouldn’t count against them if Whitehead decides to redshirt the two freshmen.

“We will try different combinations, but we don’t necessarily need a game to know if something is going to work or not because we try things in practice. We’ve got to be careful not to juggle too much so we aren’t as competitive [as we need to be],” he said.

Whitehead said they would like to build on the momentum the Bears gained from their 2-2 overtime tie at Massachusetts on Saturday night which snapped their four-game losing streak.

He expects his Black Bears to be challenged.

“They have a lot of talent. They have future NHLers on that team. They beat Vermont 2-1 and they have some other big wins, so we can’t take anything for granted,” said Whitehead.

Sophomore goalie Martin Ouellette, who was pulled in his last start after allowing three goals on seven shots in a 5-3 loss to UMass Lowell on Nov. 11, will get the nod, and Whitehead is hoping he can turn in a solid performance to bolster his confidence.

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