ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine men’s hockey team has relied on the line of Brian Flynn between Spencer Abbott and Joey Diamond all season long.
They have combined for 60 goals and 89 assists in 37 games and have been among the catalysts on the nation’s second-best power play.
But beginning with the 1-0 victory over New Hampshire in the regular-season finale that secured fourth place and a home ice berth for the Hockey East quarterfinals and including the three-game quarterfinal series win over Merrimack College, they have been limited to two goals while teammates have scored the other five.
Sophomore defenseman Brice O’Connor had two of his three career goals against New Hampshire and in the 2-1, third-game win over Merrimack. Both were game-winners. Adam Shemansky, Kyle Beattie and Matt Mangene also scored in the Merrimack series, as did Diamond and Abbott.
Maine will face Boston University in Friday’s 8 p.m. Hockey East semifinal at the TD Garden in Boston.
“That’s how you win in playoff hockey,” said senior center and co-captain Flynn. “One line can’t carry teams throughout the playoffs. You have to get contributions from everywhere. The top-line guys have to buy into the system and play some more defense, too.”
“Everyone is starting to find a little niche and contribute a little bit,” said sophomore defenseman O’Connor. “It takes some pressure off our top line. They don’t have to worry as much, and it’s good for everyone else to get some confidence going.”
“It’s great to see,” said sophomore goalie Dan Sullivan. “Any time those guys who don’t normally score do score, it’s a great boost for the team. You can’t expect our [top] line to score a couple of goals every game. That’s not realistic. Guys have off nights or they have good nights but they run into an opposing goalie who plays unbelievably well like Joe Cannata did this past weekend. He had a great weekend.
“Sometimes, you need those other guys to step up and they have certainly done that,” added Sullivan.
“Other teams try to shut down our top line, so it’s up to our second, third and fourth lines to do some scoring and, so far, we’ve been doing that,” said junior right wing Mangene.
Maine has received game-winning goals from 12 different players this season.
O’Connor has benefited from more playing time of late.
For the first time this season, he has played in six straight games. He did miss a few games due to a concussion.
“Being able to play in as many games in a row as I have, I’m gaining confidence and consistency,” said O’Connor. “I focus on defense first, but I’m getting more comfortable realizing when to jump into the attack and when to sit back. I’m more comfortable with our systems.”
Maine has Irish eyes
Maine’s lineup is certainly appropriate when it comes to playing on St. Patrick’s Day weekend in Boston.
Based on a 2009 census, 24 percent of Massachusetts residents are of Irish descent. The national rate is 12 percent.
The Black Bears feature a number of Irish-Americans, including defensemen O’Connor, Will O’Neill and Ryan Hegarty; Flynn, Diamond and Sullivan.
“That actually has crossed my mind,” grinned O’Connor. “Hopefully, the luck [of the Irish] will be with us this weekend. It’s funny, our family says we don’t have any luck at all. I don’t know if being Irish will bring us anything this weekend, but let’s hope it does.”
St. Patrick’s Day was always important in his house.
“My mother [Carolyn] would dye our milk green and the water in the toilet bowl would turn green,” said O’Connor. “She’d leave us all kinds of gift baskets and candy all over the house.”
“I haven’t really thought about it, but it’s pretty cool, I guess,” said Flynn.
“I think Hegarty’s great-grandparents are from Ireland and mine are, too,” said O’Neill. “My mom [Liz] and sister [Rachel] have been to Ireland.”
“[St. Patrick’s Day weekend] is always a good time in Boston,” said Hegarty. “The crowd will be a little rowdier.”
Diamond said both of his parents are of Irish heritage and his brother, Mike, is a firefighter who will march in the St. Patrick’s Day parade in New York City on Saturday.
“He’ll be in Boston for our game on Friday night and then he’s going back to New York to march in the parade. The parade is a very cool experience for him,” said Diamond.
Mangene’s parents have drive
Mangene’s parents, Shellie and David, could have a long weekend.
Mangene’s younger sister, Meagan, plays for Boston College and the Eagles are playing Wisconsin in the women’s Frozen Four in Duluth on Friday night.
They will attend their son’s game against Boston University on Friday night and, according to Matt, they will drive to Duluth to watch Meagan if the Eagles beat Wisconsin and play for the national championship at 4 p.m. Sunday afternoon against either Cornell or Minnesota.
“It’s a tough choice for them,” said the Black Bear right wing.
He is close with his sister, who is three years younger, and said they usually converse twice a week.
“She’s very excited, but she said she wished their tournament was next week so she could watch us play at the Garden,” said Matt. “She has had a real good year. Like me, she started the season on defense but was moved to forward. I’m excited for her.”
The older Mangene has 15 goals and 16 assists in 37 games while his sister has amassed two goals and 14 assists in 36 games.
Parker dismisses Garden advantage
Boston University coach Jack Parker said his Terriers enjoy playing at the TD Garden but said despite the fact they play two Beanpot Tournament games every year there in addition to any Hockey East playoff games, he doesn’t think his team will have a home-ice advantage over Maine.
“Maine has played there many times as well, and the ice surface is more like Maine’s than ours,” said Parker.
The ice surface at the TD Garden and the University of Maine’s Alfond Arena are both 200 by 85 feet while BU’s Agganis Arena is 200 by 90.
Mangene agreed with Parker.
“Playing at the Garden is like playing at the Alfond. The corners are pretty much the same, but I think there’s one fewer foot of room behind the net down there. Agganis is a little wider. It’s not as wide as UNH’s rink, but it’s pretty wide,” said Mangene.
UNH’s Towse Rink at the Whittemore Center is 200 by 100, which is Olympic-sized.
Leaman enjoys Hockey East
Former University of Maine and Old Town High School assistant Nate Leaman, whose Providence College Friars will face Boston College in Friday’s 5 p.m. semifinal opener, said coaching in Hockey East is different than coaching in the ECAC.
He was the head coach at Union College last year and won the Spencer Penrose Award given to the nation’s top Division I coach.
“One of the big points is the depth of this league and the quality of the venues we play in,” said Leaman, whose Friars have played 18 games against Hockey East teams that are currently rated in the top 17 in the Pairwise Rankings that mimic the NCAA Tournament Selection process.