For the first time in nearly a month, the University of Maine’s men’s hockey team will find itself in the role of favorite.
The 14-8-3 Black Bears, ranked 15th in both national polls thanks to a 4-1-1 stretch against top-seven teams Merrimack, Boston College and Boston University, will entertain a 2-24-1 Alabama-Huntsville team on Friday and Saturday nights.
And sophomore goalie Dan Sullivan, who has faced an average of 35 shots per game during Maine’s current five-game unbeaten streak (4-0-1), will be facing a team averaging 21.7 shots per game while surrendering 38.1.
Sullivan doesn’t know if that trend will continue this weekend but if it does he knows he will have to be prepared.
“Ironically, those are the toughest games to play. Your team is putting all the pressure on them and then [the opponent] gets the odd shot and and you’ve got to be ready for it,” said Sullivan. “Mentally, you have to stay in the moment. I have to worry about what I have to do on the next shot. That’s the key to success. You’ve got to stay focused. It’s a little bit easier to stay focused on the task at hand if you’re getting shot after shot rather than standing around five or 10 minutes at a time [without facing a shot].”
The Chargers will employ a passive 1-3-1 forecheck which features the first forechecker high in the offensive zone, three players abreast in the neutral zone and one defenseman several feet behind.
It is designed to clog up the neutral zone, limit the amount of speed the opponent can generate on the rush and force them to dump the puck into the offensive zone.
“Tampa Bay used it in the [NHL] playoffs last year and it was pretty effective,” said junior right wing Matt Mangene. “It’s hard to break. They want to make you turn the puck over or make bad dump-ins. You’ve got to make smart plays and not do too much with the puck. You’ve got to keep it simple.”
Alabama-Huntsville, coached by former Michigan State (1985-89) and NHL defenseman Chris Luongo, lost to University of Minnesota-Duluth, the nation’s top-ranked team, 2-1 and 4-3 on Jan. 20-21.
The Black Bear players have a lot of respect for Alabama-Huntsville and its plight.
The Chargers are the only one of the 58 Division I programs that isn’t in a league since College Hockey America folded two years ago and it was announced in the fall that Alabama-Huntsville was dropping its program. However, a group of hockey supporters came forward and the situation is expected to be revisited.
“Who would think Alabama-Huntsville would have a hockey team? We definitely respect them. It’s pretty cool there’s a Division I team in the South. It shows how much hockey has grown. Kudos to them for having a program,” said Mangene.