After a disappointing performance in a 6-2 loss to Merrimack on Friday night in which the University of Maine was outplayed and outworked, Black Bear coach Tim Whitehead shook up his second, third and fourth lines.
The second line of Kyle Beattie between Adam Shemansky and Matt Mangene was dismantled.
Juniors Beattie and Shemansky remained together but were relegated to fourth-line status with freshman Andrew Cerretani on the right wing.
Junior right wing Mangene was joined on the second line by sophomore Mark Anthoine and freshman Stu Higgins.
Freshmen Connor Leen and John Parker sandwiched sophomore Jon Swavely on the third line.
Senior left wing Theo Andersson, who had played in 19 of the previous 20 games, was a healthy scratch as was junior center Klas Leidermark.
The shakeup paid dividends on Saturday as Maine earned a 2-2 tie and produced 41 shots on goal. That was the second-most allowed by Merrimack, the nation’s seventh-ranked team, which has surrendered an average of 27.7 shots on goal per game.
The Maine players think the shakeup was warranted and productive.
“I think it was great,” said senior assistant captain Spencer Abbott, the left wing on the top line with senior center Brian Flynn and junior right wing Joey Diamond. “It lights a fire under some guys when they are moved back or when they are moved up.”
Abbott said it created a healthy competition among teammates so “everyone works a little bit harder in the game. It gets everyone going.”
Co-captain Flynn added, “[Whitehead] rewards guys he thinks are playing the best and working the hardest. That’s what he did in that game.”
Junior defenseman and assistant captain Mike Cornell said the shakeup keeps everybody honest.
“It’s good to spread some of the skilled guys around a little bit. It gives them a different look,” he said.
Senior defenseman and co-captain Will O’Neill chimed in that it gave the team a “little bit of jam [grit].”
“It gave some guys that were getting high-end minutes a little kick in the butt. I think it worked,” said O’Neill. “It says nothing about a player, it just says [Whitehead] expects more from you, you have to move your feet more, you have to get after it more, you have to do the little things to get back in the top six. I know those guys will do it and they’ll bring it all week because they want to be top six [forwards] and want to get top six minutes.”
Maine will host Boston College, the nation’s top-ranked team, for a Friday night-Saturday afternoon twinbill. The 4 p.m. start on Saturday is due to television coverage by NESN.
The Black Bears also learned over the weekend that they must outwork their opponents if they are going to win Hockey East games and finish in the top four to earn a coveted home-ice berth for the league quarterfinals.
“If we’re going to have any success in this league, we’re going to have to be the hardest-working team,” said Cornell. “There are no layups in this league. There are a lot of different bounces and there are things we can’t control. But one thing we can control is our work ethic.”
Abbott said when they work hard and stick to the game plan, “we can play with anybody. We dictated the play on the second night. When you play a team like BC, BU or New Hampshire, you have to outwork them. Otherwise, they’ll put the puck in your net because they have so much skill.”
Scarborough freshman defenseman Jake Rutt collected his first point, an assist, in Saturday’s game. It was his fourth game and first since the 5-1 loss to BU on Dec. 10.
He replaced sophomore Brice O’Connor but Whitehead said the move had nothing to do with O’Connor’s play. He said O’Connor has been playing well and turned in a solid performance on Friday night, but he wanted to get Rutt into the lineup.
Rutt was also being seriously considered to play forward Saturday night.
Rutt, at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, would have easily been Maine’s biggest forward. Anthoine and Mangene are Maine’s heaviest forwards at 190 pounds.
Rutt and O’Connor both said they would be receptive to a move up front.
“[Whitehead] tried me out up there at the beginning of the year because we had so many defensemen with [Mangene] back there,” said Rutt, who hasn’t played forward since high school. “I think he liked me up there. If it helps the team, I’ll do it.”
O’Connor added, “We both want to play and we’ll do whatever it takes to get in the lineup,” said O’Connor. “We’ll both be very open to it.”
Cornell saw some action at forward his freshman year and said he feels O’Connor and Rutt could get the job done.
“When [Whitehead] threw me up there, there was no mistake in my mind that my job was to play physical, get pucks deep [into the offensive zone] and bring some energy to the lineup,” said Cornell. “They’re both good skaters and they’re capable of doing it as long as they keep it simple and remember what their purpose is. It’s pretty easy.”
Maine will continue to look for some scoring punch from their second, third and fourth lines.
Players on those three lines have produced just 19 even-strength goals in 21 games.