Role players will be crucial to Maine hockey’s success against Minnesota-Duluth

Posted March 23, 2012, at 9:04 p.m.

WORCESTER, Mass. — Two years ago, Matt Lombardi had a hat trick, including the game-winner, to lead Boston College to a 7-6 overtime victory over Maine in the Hockey East championship game.

Lombardi, a senior tri-captain, had scored just seven goals in his entire career entering that game.

Role players often score critical goals or come up with game-changing plays to decide playoff games.

That could be the scenario on Saturday night when the University of Maine (23-13-3) faces defending national champ Minnesota-Duluth (24-9-6) in their NCAA Northeast Regional game at the DCU Center.

With senior left wing and Hobey Baker Award finalist Spencer Abbott doubtful for the game because of a head injury, the Black Bears may have to call on an unlikely hero if they are to upset the Bulldogs.

Maine has received game-winning goals from 12 different players this season and six have been produced by players who have scored three goals or less.

“In the playoffs, you win with depth,” said Maine senior center and captain Brian Flynn. “One line or one player doesn’t carry you. It can be anyone.

“We’ve had a lot of guys step up at different points this year,” added Flynn, whose four game-winning goals tie him for the team lead with Matt Mangene and Mark Anthoine. “We feel pretty confident about that. I don’t think our depth gets enough credit. A lot of people just talk about our line [Flynn with Abbott and Joey Diamond] and things like that but in all the big games we’ve won, we’ve received contributions from everyone.”

Sophomore defenseman Brice O’Connor said getting production from a variety of players has “definitely been a big factor in the way our team has found success coming down the stretch. We all know our roles but, at the same time, we know some guys are going to have off-nights so others are going to have to step up, put the team on their back and make some plays.”

Two of O’Connor’s three goals have been game-winners. He had the game-winner in the 1-0 win over New Hampshire in the season finale that clinched home ice for the Hockey East quarterfinals and got another in the 2-1 triumph over Merrimack in the deciding game of their best-of-three quarterfinal series.

“We have confidence in everyone on the team,” said O’Connor. “Everyone can step in and play a big role, no matter what line they’re on or what position they play.”

He also said important contributions aren’t just limited to goal production.

“It’s not just about scoring goals, but playing defense,” said O’Connor. “Our top line doesn’t just score goals, they play defense, too.”

“It’s playoff hockey. The goals could come from anywhere. A role player could score a goal that will decide a game,” said junior right wing Mangene.

Mangene is the epitome of the term “role player.”

He has played both defense and right wing and has had a variety of linemates. He is on the shutdown checking line with left wing Anthoine and center Stu Higgins. He also has played with Adam Shemansky and Kyle Beattie and was teamed up with Flynn and Diamond against Boston College.

He has responded with 15 goals and 18 assists in 39 games, making him the team’s fourth-leading scorer after Abbott, Diamond and Flynn. He had four goals and 17 assists in 65 career games entering this season.

He said he is ready to handle any assignment.

“I’ve been [in different roles] all year,” said Mangene, who is used to his changing roles.

Maine coach Tim Whitehead said his team’s win over Boston University, in which BU tied the game during the sequence in which Abbott was hurt, but Maine came back to pull out the win, is a “microcosm” of the season and shows the resiliency of his team and the way everybody has chipped in.

For junior defenseman Mike Cornell and fellow junior Mark Nemec, it’s going to mean trying to shut down a Bulldog team that leads the nation in scoring, averaging 3.64 goals per game.

“In games like this, you have to play good, sound defensive hockey,” said Nemec. “They have two pretty strong lines so we have to focus on keeping them to the outside [and away from the net front].”

Bulldogs senior center and two-year Hobey Baker Award finalist Jack Connolly said after talking to his older brother Chris, who plays center for BU, he feels they can exploit Maine’s defense corps.

“He said they have a lot of speed but we can get after their defense and capitalize on their weaknesses,” Connolly said. “Their goalie [Dan Sullivan] has played well of late but we think we can get after him as well. We have a lot of speed on our team and will be able to work [the puck] down low and try to get some goals around the crease.”

Sullivan will be making his playoff debut while UMD goalie Kenny Reiter is a senior who led the Bulldogs to the NCAA title a year ago.

“It’s going to be a great matchup,” said Sullivan. “They’re the defending national champs and they have a great goalie who is a lot like [BU’s] Kieran Millan.”

Sullivan said he is just going to focus on one shot at a time and is excited about the challenge.

“I feel great,” said Sullivan.

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