That’s what the University of Maine men’s hockey team will be seeking as well as a tournament championship when the Black Bears open the 12th annual Florida College Classic against Clarkson at Germain Arena in Estero, Fla., at 4:05 p.m. Thursday.
Maine is 6-7-2 overall while Clarkson is 9-7-4.
In the second game, 13th-ranked Cornell’s Big Red, 7-3-1 and the only ranked team in the tournament, will take on 5-7-4 Massachusetts at approximately 7:35.
The consolation and championship games will be on Friday.
Maine had its three-game winning streak and four-game unbeaten streak snapped by Boston University 5-1 on Dec. 10 and the Black Bears would love to start another winning skein as they head into a grueling stretch in which they will play 10 games in 30 days.
The stretch will conclude with two-game series against Merrimack, Boston College and Boston University, all of whom are nationally ranked. Merrimack and Boston College were both ranked No. 1 in the country earlier this season.
“This will be a real good stepping stone for us,” said Maine senior defenseman Ryan Hegarty. “These have been two really important games for us every year and we’d like to go down there and have a good showing.”
“This tournament is big,” said senior center and co-captain Brian Flynn. “We’re starting fresh now and it’s good to get off to a good start in the second half. And to experience a tournament championship, even if it’s just a four-team tournament, helps a lot [with confidence].”
Senior left wing Spencer Abbott, Maine’s leading scorer, said the Bears feel good about the way they finished the first part of the schedule with the exception of the loss to BU.
“[Goalie Dan Sullivan] is playing real well behind us. That has been a huge [boost] for us. We know what each guy in our dressing room can bring. As long as everybody holds themselves accountable, we should be solid,” said Abbott.
Maine coach Tim Whitehead said the Black Bears are going to take an approach in which they break the season up into four-game blocks.
The Maine coach has been pleased with Sullivan’s progress and would like to see the sophomore continue to supply the team with consistent goaltending and keep improving.
Penalty-killing and secondary scoring are the primary areas he feels his team needs to make strides in over the second half of the season.
Maine’s penalty-killing percentage of 78.3 ranks it 42nd among 58 Division I schools.
It starts with discipline and not taking so many penalties, he said.
Maine is averaging 18.2 penalty minutes per game, which is the fifth most in Division I.
“We aren’t taking retaliatory penalties, but we’re taking too many stick penalties because we’re out of position defensively,” explained Whitehead. “We have to get better defensive position.”
He is hoping the penalty-killing forward tandems of Stu Higgins with Jon Swavely and Theo Andersson with Klas Leidermark can become consistently effective penalty-killers so he won’t have to use leading scorers and power-play standouts Abbott, Flynn and Joey Diamond to kill penalties.
“But we’ll use them if we have to,” said Whitehead, who also will use speedy defenseman-turned-right wing Matt Mangene as a penalty-killing forward. Mangene plays the point on one of the power plays.
Linemates Abbott, Flynn and Diamond have scored 25 goals between them and that represents 54 percent of Maine’s total. They also have combined for eight of the 17 goals on Maine’s seventh-ranked power play, which is operating at 24.3 percent efficiency.
The second line of Kyle Beattie between Adam Shemansky and Mangene has played well lately, according to Whitehead, and he looks for them to translate that strong play into goal production.
They have combined for nine goals.
Shemansky, who suffered a concussion in the 5-1 loss to BU on Dec. 10, has been cleared to play.
“We’ve got to start producing,” acknowledged Mangene.