ORONO, Maine — University of Maine senior defenseman and co-captain Will O’Neill said when the team rides the bus home to Orono after a road game, “we usually throw in a movie and go to bed.”
Not Saturday night.
After beating archrival New Hampshire 5-4 in overtime at Boston’s historic Fenway Park in the second half of the Sun Life Frozen Fenway doubleheader, there weren’t many people sleeping.
“We were talking all the time,” said O’Neill. “We talked about every little detail. There were so many details over the course of the weekend.”
As for the whole experience, he said, “it doesn’t get any better than that.”
One of the topics on the trip home was the crowd support. They noticed their fan support during the introduction of the starting lineups after each set of fans was encouraged to cheer as loudly as they could for their respective team.
“The Maine fans blew the New Hampshire fans away,” said O’Neill. “There were so many more Maine fans. It reminded me of the Hockey East championships [at Boston’s TD Garden] in 2010. We have such great fans. We want to get back there.”
“Our crowd was incredible,” said senior center and co-captain Brian Flynn, who scored the game-winner.
“They were definitely the loudest bunch of fans and there were a lot more than UNH had,” observed junior defenseman Nick Pryor, who was also referring to the UMass and Vermont fans who were on hand for the first game won by UMass 3-2 in overtime.
Sophomore goalie Dan Sullivan termed the whole experience “unbelievable.”
“It really hit me hard when we were walking out there … up the stairs with the spotlights on. It’s such a big field and the rink just takes up the infield. It’s a huge place with so much history. I was just thinking about the [Red Sox] who have played there and who are playing there,” Sullivan said.
“It was amazing. I’ll never forget it,” said Maine sophomore left wing Mark Anthoine, who had a pair of goals. “And it was huge to come out with two points against a rival.”
The Maine players said the ice was hard and fast at the start of periods despite the unusually high temperatures but it got snowy and choppy as the periods wore on.
“You had to keep it simple at the end of the period but they did a great job shoveling it off,” said Flynn referring to the nine workers in red jackets who shoveled off the ice during timeouts.
O’Neill concurred, saying the crew did a particularly stellar job in front of the benches and around the crease areas where the snow accumulated.
Sullivan said the set-up for goalies “wasn’t bad.”
“There were a few shadows but the lights were in position where they didn’t get in your eyes unless someone chipped the puck in pretty high. They did a phenomenal job with the ice considering the conditions,” he said.
Second power-play unit producing
The Black Bears have won eight of their last nine and one of the keys has been the power play. The second power-play unit has been producing its share of goals to complement the top unit.
The second unit consists of left wings Anthoine and Adam Shemansky, center Kyle Beattie and defensemen Nick Pryor and Brice O’Connor. O’Connor has been the newcomer to the unit.
The first unit is made up of linemates Spencer Abbott, Flynn and Joey Diamond along with O’Neill and Matt Mangene. Mangene, the right wing on a line with Beattie and Shemansky during even-strength situations, mans the point with O’Neill on the first unit although Abbott sometimes will swap positions with him.
Maine has the nation’s third-best power play percentage at 27.8 percent thanks to a current 11-game stretch with at least one power-play goal (22-for-59, 37.3 percent). Maine has scored at least two power-play goals in eight of the last 10 games and the Black Bears are 10-for-27 over the last four games.
Anthoine has seven power-play goals to tie Diamond for the team lead. They are tied for sixth in the country.
Anthoine also has a power-play assist.
Beattie has nine power-play assists and Shemansky has three goals and three assists on the power play. Pryor has three assists.
Abbott leads the team in power-play points with 17 (2 goals, 15 assists). O’Neill has 10 points, all assists, and Diamond is tied with Beattie with nine points as he has two assists to go with his seven goals.
Beattie said it is important for the second unit to produce.
“It helps take the pressure off our top unit. The top unit and the top line has been carrying us all year and it really helps when we can get a goal,” Beattie said.
“When we had the best power play [percentage] in the country two years ago, we had two great units we could throw out there,” said Flynn. “You can’t play one unit for the whole two minutes because that unit gets worn out.”
The members of the second unit feel they benefit from the fact opponents gear up to stop the top unit and may not donate nearly as much time figuring out how to stop them.
“They may not take us as seriously,” said Pryor. “It works out well for us. We just try to keep it simple, we try not to overpass. We just try to get the puck to the net. We have a lot of different looks.”