Some years are more challenging than others for coaching staffs.
This will be an extremely challenging year for the University of Maine men’s hockey coaching staff.
That’s not to say it’s a bad thing. It is going to be interesting thanks to the influx of talented newcomers.
But it will certainly add gray hairs to their temples.
The team lost nearly half of its goal production off last year’s NCAA Tournament team so it appears as though the team will be involved in a lot of close, low-scoring games.
This past weekend gave credence to that opinion as the Black Bears lost to Quinnipiac 2-1 and tied the University of New Brunswick 2-2 in an exhibition game.
Both were quality opponents.
Quinnipiac was a much more experienced team than Maine — their players averaged 70 career games apiece compared to Maine’s 48 — and had some impressive forwards, while UNB had a much older team and the Varsity Reds’ strength on their sticks, physical play and speed created a real challenge.
Both teams had stellar goaltenders.
UNB goalie Dan LaCosta already has an NHL shutout to his credit with the Columbus Blue Jackets (vs. Colorado).
Maine should have beaten Quinnipiac but was fortunate to get a tie with UNB.
The Black Bears did turn in two solid defensive performances, allowing very few odd-man rushes or point-blank scoring chances.
But they also didn’t generate a lot of high-percentage scoring chances, which was to be expected.
Head coach Tim Whitehead and assistants Dan Kerluke, Bob Corkum and Dave Alexander will have to constantly make tough decisions pertaining to personnel.
It starts in goal.
Dan Sullivan had an outstanding season last year, but junior Martin Ouellette, who was beat out for the No. 1 job a year ago by Sullivan, appears to be much improved and freshman Matt Morris is extremely quick and sound technically.
The problem is you can play only one goalie at a time. Sullivan has earned the No. 1 job based on last year’s performance, but the Maine staff has the luxury of having two other goalies capable of carrying the load.
It’s too bad we’re not talking about a baseball team and its pitching staff. This would be a formidable three-man rotation.
If Sullivan has an off game, will they play Ouellette or Morris the next game? Will they eventually go to a two-man rotation?
It’s a nice problem to have, but it will also require tough decisions.
The freshman class is a good one and you could certainly see some of them unseating veterans in the lineup both on the blue line and and up front. Maybe even in goal.
If it’s close between a veteran or a rookie for a lineup spot, do you go with the experienced player who might be less prone to make mistakes or do you choose youthful energy and talent and live with the occasional mistake?
They will obviously pick a lineup they feel has the best chance of winning.
I would lean toward the young players and live with the occasional mistake.
I want forwards who can make plays and get the job done in traffic and I prefer defensemen who can wheel out of traffic and make a precise breakout pass.
If upperclassmen aren’t producing, even if they had done so in previous years, don’t wait too long before inserting the underclassmen.
Maine is going to be a bubble team for the NCAA Tournament and every game is going to be important.