University of Maine senior left wing Spencer Abbott’s status for Saturday’s NCAA Northeast Regional game in Worcester, Mass., on Saturday night against defending national champ Minnesota-Duluth is still up in the air.
Abbott suffered a head injury in Friday night’s 5-3 Hockey East semifinal win over Boston University and missed Saturday’s 4-1 HE championship game loss to Boston College.
University of Maine coach Tim Whitehead gave his team Monday off and said they are planning to practice this week “under the assumption he won’t be available.”
“Obviously, it will be an easy adjustment if he is able to play,” said Whitehead.
Whitehead said he will juggle line combinations during practice this week to come up with a lineup that gives Maine the best chance to beat Minnesota-Duluth.
Matt Mangene, who had been on a line with Mark Anthoine and Stu Higgins, moved up to take Abbott’s spot on the top line with Brian Flynn and Joey Diamond against BC.
Andrew Cerretani was inserted into the lineup with Abbott’s absence and was reunited with Adam Shemansky and Kyle Beattie.
But the Maine coaching staff juggled the lines throughout the game.
Mark Anthoine, the net-front presence on the second power play, moved up to replace Abbott on the first power-play unit and defenseman Ryan Hegarty assumed Anthoine’s role on the second power-play unit.
But the power play went 0-for-5 after a 4-for-6 showing against Boston University.
Whitehead said his team will practice Tuesday but will be off on Wednesday before practicing Thursday and leaving for Worcester after practice.
“The guys need the rest. They’ve played five grueling playoff games the last two weekends,” said Whitehead.
Maine went to three games to beat Merrimack in their Hockey East quarterfinal series and the second game set a record for most penalties (50) and penalty minutes (184) in a Hockey East playoff game.
Whitehead said he was impressed with the way his team played in the second and third periods against BC and “even though we lost the game, we gained some confidence.”
“We know we can go toe-to-toe with BC without our best player. And now we have a week to make more adjustments [for the Minnesota-Duluth game],” said Whitehead.
“We’re looking forward to this challenge and if Spencer is back, it’s a bonus,” he added.
Maine-UMD close matchup
Two of the coaches whose teams played both Maine and Minnesota-Duluth said the game between the two should be a close one.
Providence College first-year coach Nate Leaman, who lost (5-2) and tied (2-2) the Bulldogs and went 1-2 against Maine, also had a first-hand look at UMD in the NCAA Tournament a year ago.
His Union College team lost to the eventual NCAA champs 2-0 in their first round game in the East Regional in Bridgeport, Conn.
Alabama-Huntsville coach Chris Luongo dropped 2-1 and 4-3 decisions to UMD before traveling to Maine two weeks later and losing 4-3 in overtime and 5-0 to Maine.
The only other common opponent was North Dakota. UMD split with North Dakota at home while Maine went 0-1-1 at North Dakota.
“It’ll be a real tight game,” said Leaman, a former University of Maine and Old Town High School assistant coach. “Both teams are good in transition, both are good on the power play and they’re equal in net.
“You have to like Duluth’s [NCAA] experience but I like the Maine team a lot. Tim [Whitehead] did a good job bringing them along,” said Leaman.
“It’ll be a great college hockey game. It’ll be the epitome of our sport,” predicted Luongo.
“Duluth is a little more physical while Maine is a little faster across the board,” said Luongo. “We took a lot of hits the first night at Duluth and the glass in that rink is unforgiving. That wore on us. The next night, we were better tactically and that kept us off the train tracks when they were charging in.
“Maine’s speed was more of an issue for us,” added Luongo. “Maine’s speed up front was a handful. Both teams have good goalies [Maine’s Dan Sullivan and UMD’s Kenny Reiter] so it will be a matter of which one finds his game the most on that night.”
Leaman said senior center Jack Connolly, a Hobey Baker Award finalist, and sophomore right wing J.T. Brown are “really elite forwards.”
“Connolly is very skilled and very intelligent. He excels on the power play. He can find anyone. He’s slick and has a knack for getting open,” said Leaman. “Brown has a lot of speed and makes a lot of plays.
“Their defense is solid and their goaltender is solid,” added Leaman.
The Bulldogs play a “patient game defensively and they have a good transition game,” according to the Friar coach.
“It’s not that they come after you most of the time. They angle you into bad areas and they take away the walls in the neutral zone and force you to turn the puck over,” added Leaman.
UMD returned three of its top five scorers including Connolly, who has 19 goals and 39 assists, along with center Travis Oleksuk (21 & 30) and Brown (23 & 23).
Their top defense tandem features Brady Lamb (9 & 21) and Wade Bergman (3 & 15) and Reiter is 22-8-6 with a 2.40 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage.
UMD is the nation’s top scoring team (3.64 goals per game) and it is 16th in goals against (2.56). The power play is ranked No. 15 (21 percent) and the penalty-killing is 53rd (77.6 percent). The Bulldogs are 18th in penalty minutes (14.1 per game).
Maine is seventh in scoring (3.36), tied for 31st in goals against (2.79) and has the second best power play (26.9). It is 45th in penalty killing (79.4) and is the third most penalized team in the country (18.6).