MEN'S HOCKEY

Black Bears’ first Fenway ice experience ‘a little weird’

Posted Jan. 06, 2012, at 8:06 p.m.

The University of Maine men’s hockey team had an opportunity to practice on the ice rink located in Boston’s Fenway Park on Friday in preparation for Saturday night’s Sun Life Frozen Fenway game against archrival University of New Hampshire.

Or most of the rink, anyway.

A 15-foot portion of the ice was coned off because the paint from an extended goal line was leaking after being in the sun.

“It was a little weird,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead.

The 7:30 game will be the second contest in a doubleheader as the University of Vermont and University of Massachusetts will open the festivities at 4 p.m.

None of the four teams was able to use the full ice sheet Friday.

Maine senior defensemen Will O’Neill and Ryan Hegarty said after Friday’s practice that the Fenway ice was hard, fast and a little choppy.

They don’t envision having to make any dramatic changes to their game plan because of the ice.

“I think it was choppy because there have been so many teams on it,” said co-captain O’Neill. “We just have to bring our game. We can’t worry about the ice. We’ll deal with it. We try to keep our game simple anyway and outwork teams.”

Hegarty added, “At the end of a period, the ice is a little choppy so one less stick handle should do the trick.”

The boards drew different opinions.

O’Neill thought they were lively, Whitehead thought they were dull and Hegarty called them “unpredictable.”

“They’re lively in some spots and dull in others,” said Hegarty. “It’ll be interesting to see how they play in the game.”

O’Neill said the dimensions of the ice surface are “exactly like an NHL rink” which should benefit the Black Bears.

The standard NHL rink is 200 feet by 85 feet which matches the dimensions at the University of Maine’s Alfond Arena.

The University of New Hampshire plays on an Olympic-size rink (200 by 100) at the Whittemore Center.

“That’s the way it should be. It’s our home game,” noted Whitehead, whose Black Bears gave up a game in their season-ending home series against UNH for the Fenway game. “The corners aren’t as shallow as ours but it’s a pretty similar rink.”

Hegarty said Friday’s practice was valuable not only in getting a feel for the ice and the surroundings but it also “got the jitters out.”

Whitehead added, “We got a little of the rust out.”

The Maine coach observed that the crowd is “quite a distance” from the ice surface so it won’t sound nearly as loud as “our 5,500 at Alfond Arena.”

Maine will bring a 9-7-2 mark (6-6-1 Hockey East) against New Hampshire, which is sporting an uncharacteristic 6-10-2 record (4-7-1 in Hockey East).

UNH has made 10 straight NCAA Tournament appearances.

The Maine players are excited about the opportunity and know they’ll leave Fenway Park with a lasting memory.

But they also know that it is a league game and every point is precious in the Hockey East as they seek a top four finish and home ice for the conference quarterfinals.

They know they will have to block out the distractions.

“We’re lucky to have had two skates on it before we play,” said Maine junior defenseman and assistant captain Mike Cornell, referring to Maine’s Saturday morning skate. “It’ll be good to get the wow factor out of it.

“It’s two huge points for us. They don’t like us and we don’t like them,” added Cornell. “We’ve got to find a way to dial it in and treat it as just another hockey game for 60 minutes. After that, we can take in all the memories.”

Both teams are going to be excited right out of the gate, said senior center and co-captain Brian Flynn.

“In those situations, you’ve got to keep it simple early and make sure you don’t make too many mistakes,” he said. “Once the game gets going, you settle into it pretty well.”

Whitehead said there are a “lot of exciting angles” to the game but when the puck is dropped “we need to focus on the task at hand which is the first 20 minutes against UNH.”

“Any time you’re in a big game, you need to control your emotions so you can play at your best,” he said. “I’m not worried about them being up for the game. The biggest thing is keeping them focused and calm so they can make plays.

“Our specialty is making plays under pressure. We’re a team that encourages guys to make plays in tight spaces but to do that they have to control their emotions,” Whitehead said.

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