ORONO, Maine — The ability to beat quality opponents on the road separates average teams from good teams.
The University of Maine men’s hockey team, a recent addition to the U.S. College Hockey Online and USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine Top 20 at No. 20 and No. 18, respectively, will try to take that next step this weekend when it visits Agganis Arena for a pair of games against No. 2 Boston University.
On the road against traditional rivals BU, Boston College and New Hampshire, Maine is 1-25-3 dating back to the 2005-2006 season.
The Black Bears are 1-9-2 at BU’s Agganis Arena, 0-8-1 at BC’s Conte Forum and 0-8 at UNH’s Whittemore Center.
“That’s in the past,” said Maine senior center and co-captain Brian Flynn. “We don’t look at those statistics at all.
“We’re playing pretty well lately, so are they, and we have to stick with what is working for us,” added Flynn. “We’ve got to keep things simple and stay out of the box. If we get more power plays than they do, that’ll help.”
BU and Maine are the nation’s most penalized teams, averaging 20.8 and 19.2 penalty minutes per game, respectively.
“It’s no mystery we’ve had some goaltending issues in recent years,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “We played extremely well in a lot of those games. But Dan Sullivan has solidified our goaltending and that has made a difference. The team has confidence in him.”
Maine’s games at BU have been more closely contested than the ones at BC and at UNH.
Five of Maine’s nine losses at BU have been by a goal.
“They’re going to be very close, fast-paced, intense games,” said BU coach Jack Parker. “That’s usually what happens. The game at Maine [on Dec. 10] wasn’t a 5-1 game. It was real tight. Maine had a couple of great chances in the second period. Kieran [goalie Kieran Millan] was great that night.”
BU scored four third-period goals.
“We’re drastically different from what we were at the beginning of the season,” said Maine senior defenseman and co-captain Will O’Neill. “We have more of an edge. We’re playing more as a team. We have an identity.”
Maine’s 2-2 road tie at No. 7 Merrimack on Jan. 14 has given the Black Bears confidence and a blueprint for success.
“We have to outwork them,” said senior defenseman Ryan Hegarty. “The timing of the series will help because we just got through playing BC and they play a little like BU. They both like to hit [players] at the back door so we should be stronger defensively than usual against BU.”
If Maine is going to have success, the Bears will have to find a way to put pucks behind standout Millan.
“He’s a very good goalie but no goalie can stop a puck if he doesn’t see it. We’ve got to go to the net hard, take his eyes away and make him uncomfortable,” said senior left wing Spencer Abbott.
“We’ve played some great games on the road and at neutral sites this year,” said Whitehead, whose Bears are 6-4-3 away from Alfond Arena including 4-0 at neutral sites. “We’re excited about the opportunity to take another step.”
Parker feels his team will have to neutralize the league’s top-scoring line of Flynn, Abbott and Joey Diamond.
“They put the fear of God in you,” said Parker.