ORONO, Maine — Most of the nine freshmen on the University of Maine men’s hockey team are used to winning. Their junior or high school teams were title contenders or at least had winning records.
So playing for a team that is 2-10-2 has been different and challenging.
But they are taking things in stride and are optimistic about the future.
Every first-year player except redshirt freshman Billy Norman and goalie Matt Morris has played in at least six games.
Center-left wing Devin Shore, center Steven Swavely, left wing Conor Riley and defenseman Ben Hutton have played in all 14 games; left wing Will Merchant has played in 13; right wing Ryan Lomberg has seen duty in nine and forward-defenseman Kyle Williams has appeared in six games. Forward-defenseman Norman has played in four games and Morris has appeared in three.
They have combined for 38.9 percent of Maine’s points.
“It’s nice to come in and get a bunch of ice time as a freshman but, at the same time, everybody out there wants to win,” said Hutton, the Black Bears’ third-leading scorer with two goals and four assists.
“It’s definitely a change,” added Hutton. “I’m used to winning one-goal games but, lately, we’ve been losing them. I’m sure things will turn around soon.”
Maine has played in six games decided by one goal and is 1-5.
“No one likes to lose,” said Shore, Maine’s top scorer with a goal and six assists. “It’s really frustrating but, at the same time, we’re using it as a huge learning opportunity. You can learn so much.”
Riley said they can’t let the record interfere with their progress.
“We can’t get frustrated. We’ve just got to keep focusing game by game, shift by shift,” he said.
Shore said there is a silver lining.
“Anyone can feel good and stick together as a team when you’re winning,” said Shore. “When you’re losing, it really shows the character of the team. Once we get out of this, we’ll be a lot stronger for it.”
Williams added, “We’re all very close and we’re going to stick together no matter what happens this year. We’re going to get better. There’s no doubt about it.”
The freshmen feel they are improving.
“We’re even getting better in practice,” said Shore. “The compete level in practice has been unbelievable and it’s the same with games. We’ve got more of a comfort level with the puck and we’re able to keep up with the speed.”
Swavely said he feels more confident every game.
“I feel like I have an extra second with the puck to make a play rather than rushing it. The more games you play, the better you get,” he said.
Several of the freshmen have seen duty on the special teams. Hutton and Shore have been regulars on the power play and Swavely and Riley have been two of the team’s top penalty-killers.
“It has been great. A lot of freshmen at other schools don’t get penalty-killing or power play time. It’s going to help you that much more throughout your career,” said Swavely.
Maine visits Boston University at 8 p.m. Saturday.
Vermont series attendance down
The University of Maine’s series with Vermont this past weekend drew a total of 7,791 fans, the lowest for a two-game weekend set against the same team or two different teams since 2003. There were 4,004 on Friday and 3,787 on Saturday.
Both games were televised.
Vermont won Friday night’s game 2-1 and Saturday’s game was a 2-2 overtime tie.
On March 6-7, 2003, 7,600 showed up for a series against UMass. UMass swept Maine.
There were 67 series played between that 2003 set with UMass and this past weekend.
Maine did have a lower two-game attendance for the last two games of a Hockey East best-of-three quarterfinal series against UMass Lowell on March 13-14, 2010, as only 6,363 showed up on those two nights.
Maine’s special teams improving
Maine’s special teams have improved of late.
The Black Bears have killed off 23 of the opponents’ last 26 power plays for an 88.5 percent success rate and the power play has scored in four of the last five games (4-for-23, 17.4 percent).
Maine has improved to 25th nationally on the penalty kill (83.6 percent) although it is still 57th among 59 teams on the power play (7.5 percent).
Another bright spot has been the recent play of junior goaltender Martin Ouellette.
Ouellette has a 2.29 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage over his last six starts and he is 1-3-2 in those games.