ORONO, Maine — Captaining a winning team can be an enjoyable experience.
But when the team is struggling, it can certainly be a challenge.
University of Maine men’s hockey tri-captains Mark Nemec, Mike Cornell and Joey Diamond find themselves trying to find ways to get the Black Bears untracked after the 1-6 start and current four-game losing streak.
Providence swept the Black Bears 3-2 and 3-0 last weekend in Providence.
And it doesn’t get any easier this weekend as defending national champion and current No.1 Boston College and ninth-ranked New Hampshire visit Alfond Arena for Friday (7 p.m.) and Sunday (4 p.m.) contests, respectively.
“It is a tough time to be a captain. It’s easy to be a leader when things are going real smoothly,” conceded senior defenseman Cornell. “When things are tough, you need guys to step up and take it upon themselves to turn it around.
“It’s definitely not a fun time in our locker room. We’re not putting forward a good effort.
The results haven’t been what they’ve needed to be and we’ve been pretty honest with each other about it. Having said that, we’ve got to find a way to keep it light while staying focused and preparing for our next game,” added Cornell.
“The three of us have to lead by example on the ice by doing all the little things right. We’ve got to get back to basics and move forward from there,” said senior right wing Diamond.
Senior defenseman Nemec said the players must not allow the start to divide the team.
“We have to continue to pull together. That’s the biggest thing right now,” he said.
“Everybody is feeling the pressure here. It’s tough to find the answers,” added Nemec. “Confidence is an issue for some of the guys. It isn’t coming as easily as it has in the past. There are new roles for a lot of guys, and a lot of the freshmen aren’t playing positions they’re necessarily accustomed to. I wish I had the answers.”
Cornell said he thinks, “It’s as much a mental thing as a physical thing. Even the way you come to the rink, your attitude might dictate the way you play.
“Guys have to find a way to gain some confidence, and whether that starts in practice with holding onto the puck for an extra second, or not being afraid to make a mistake or to make a play, all of a sudden guys are having more fun and that can translate into the weekends,” he added.
Goal scoring continues to be the glaring weakness.
Maine has scored only eight goals in seven games and is 1-for-36 on the power play.
Maine is 57th among 59 Division I teams in goals per game (1.14) and power-play percentage (2.8 percent).
“We’ve got to make more plays heading into the offensive zone,” said Diamond. “That’s a big part of it. We’ve got to make tape-to-tape passes and take the puck to the net. We’ve also got to get our shots on net and not get them blocked. We’ve got to pay attention to details and focus on that.”
Maine has also had its issues in the defensive zone as well in recent games, allowing 16 goals during their four-game losing streak after giving up just seven in their first three games.
“We definitely need to sharpen up our play in the defensive zone,” said Diamond.
“You always start from the defense and work out,” said Cornell. “We’ve got to protect our goalies.”
The captains feel the team can get on a roll once they notch a noteworthy win that restores their confidence.
“We don’t have anything to build off right now,” Diamond said. “Once we pop a few more goals and get a win, we’ll have something to build on.”
Even though it appears to be a daunting task this weekend, the Black Bears have had recent success against Boston College and New Hampshire at Alfond Arena.
Maine has won three straight and is 4-1-1 in the last six home games against Boston College and has won three of the last four Alfond games against New Hampshire.
“The way things have gone [this season], it’s a David versus Goliath type of thing. Our backs are against the wall. We’ll see what we’re made of,” said Cornell.
Maine coach Tim Whitehead said senior center Kyle Beattie, the second-leading returning scorer off last year’s NCAA Tournament team behind Diamond, won’t play against BC or UNH because of Beattie’s concussion, and the goaltending job is “still wide open.”
Freshman Williams shows versatility
Freshman defenseman Kyle Williams of Bowdoinham has played in two of the last three games in addition to the exhibition game against the University of New Brunswick, and he has already played left wing and center in addition to defense.
“He’s a good guy, and he understands his role very well,” said Cornell. “He’s finding ways to contribute any way he can. A lot of guys have gotten their feet wet that way in this program over the years. He’s a hard worker who can be a really successful defenseman here.”
Williams said playing different positions is “a lot easier than people think.
“I’ve played both [defense and forward] my entire life. I was a forward up until four years ago. It hasn’t been a hard adjustment for me. You just have some adjustments you have to make here and there.”
He said playing center is the most challenging position “because you’ve got a lot more responsibility. You’ve got to play so much defense in the corners in the defensive zone, and then you’ve got to get up the ice to try to help out offensively. It’s a lot different than being a defenseman, for sure.”
He said Whitehead told him before the season he might be seeing some duty at forward.
“So it hasn’t been a big surprise to me,” said Williams who doesn’t care where he plays as long as he is in the lineup.
“I’ll study video to figure out things I can do better to help the team,” he said.
Whitehead said Williams has been dependable and versatile.
“He’s going to have more opportunities to help the team,” the coach said.