ORONO — University of Maine men’s hockey junior right wing Joey Diamond is on a goal-scoring tear.
He has eight goals in his last 10 games and he is tied for third in Hockey East in league goals with nine.
He has 11 goals overall and is ninth in the country in goals per game (0.69).
He has also been spending more time on the ice because the hard-nosed Diamond, who amassed 130 penalty minutes a year ago, has taken just one minor penalty over his last five games.
“I’m really proud of Joey,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “He has really improved his ability to control his emotions during the game.
“It’s part of a growth process like it was with Prestin Ryan, Rob Bellamy and Brent Shepheard. Your toughest competitors are often your high-penalty minute guys. You have to keep focusing on it because if they can harness that competitiveness in a healthy way, you have an elite player and that’s what’s happened with Joey.”
Senior defenseman Ryan Hegarty said they had a team meeting recently in which reducing penalties was one of the primary areas of discussion.
“Ever since then, Joey’s been phenomenal [at staying out of the box and producing points],” said Hegarty who was also singled out for taking too many penalties.
Diamond has a team-high 61 penalty minutes and Hegarty is second with 42.
Diamond explained that his role has changed this season.
He’s on the team’s top line for the first time with seniors Spencer Abbott and Brian Flynn. He is on the top power-play unit and also sees occasional penalty-killing duty.
“I’ve accepted my role and I need to do what it takes to contribute,” said Diamond. “I don’t want to be in the box and I don’t think my team wants me to be in the box. I can do more if I stay out of the box.”
Abbott added, “It’s obviously key to have him on the ice. We need him out there scoring goals.”
Despite being just 5 foot 7 inches, 165 pounds, Diamond is fearless and has a tremendous net front presence. He is also dynamic behind the net and along the boards.
“He is one of the best guys I’ve ever seen down low,” said Flynn. “It’s tough to take the puck from him. He’s so strong for a little guy. He brings a lot of jam [grit] to our line. He is also our most consistent guy going to the net. That’s how he scores his goals.”
Abbott said Diamond is “probably the strongest player in our league. He’s unbelievable below the goal line. People underestimate him going into the corner. Before they know it, he’ll come out front and put it in their net.”
Diamond’s play behind the net and along the boards is something “I’ve always taken pride in.
“I always like going up against the bigger and tougher defensemen in practice because it helps me,” he said. “You really have to be strong on the puck and you have to protect the puck and do the little things in order to make plays. That’s what I’ve focused on this year. I’m getting better at it.”
Whitehead said he can’t recall ever coaching a “tougher kid, pound-for-pound. He oozes with a natural toughness.”
Diamond said he has also spent time working on his shot during and after practice.
“You always want to get a quicker release, (so the goalie isn’t set),” explained Diamond, who has eight assists to go with his 11 goals in 16 games and is the team’s third-leading scorer.
Diamond credits a lot of his success to his linemates.
Abbott is the team’s leading scorer with 11 goals, 18 assists in 17 games and Flynn is second with 9 and 17. Abbott and Flynn are second and fifth in the country in points per game with 1.71 and 1.53, respectively.
“When you’re playing with two of the best players in the country, it’s easy to score. They set you up really nice,” said Diamond, who is tied with Mark Anthoine in power-play goals on the team with five.
Diamond knows his reputation doesn’t help him in the eyes of the referees but he understands it and hopes to rectify the situation.
“It comes with the territory and with the way I play. I just have to continue what I’ve been doing the last five games,” said Diamond who is hopeful that the referees will cut him some slack if he can prove he has changed his ways.
Whitehead, who benched Diamond earlier this year after he took a costly penalty against North Dakota, said it will be important for Diamond to continue playing his aggressive style of hockey without taking penalties.
“At the end of last year, he was so concerned about taking penalties [and hurting the team] that he played on the perimeter and he wasn’t effective,” said Whitehead.
Whitehead gets 300th win
Maine’s 5-2 win over UMass in the championship game at the Florida College Classic in Estero, Fla., on Saturday night was the 300th of Whitehead’s career.
He is now 300-240-56 in his 16 years as a head coach. He is 224-145-45 in his 11 years at Maine after going 76-95-11 in his five years at UMass Lowell.
“I didn’t realize it until after the game,” said the 50-year-old Whitehead.
“It’s nice. It’s very tough to win, especially in our league. But I’m not really looking for any personal milestones. We’re all about our team and that’s what we’re focusing on right now.”
“I’m really happy for him,” said Hegarty. “He doesn’t get the credit he deserves. He’s here every day working harder than anyone.”
“It says a lot about the success this program has had and how good a coach he is,” said junior left wing Adam Shemansky.
Flynn added, “He puts a lot of time in. That’s awesome. That’s a pretty big milestone.”