Coach Whitehead needs to give youngsters more playing time to salvage UMaine’s hockey season

By Larry Mahoney, BDN Staff
Posted Dec. 20, 2012, at 1:11 p.m.

One of the keys to success in college sports is recruiting balance.

Each class needs to have specific components as well as variety.

For hockey, each class needs goal scorers, valuable role players and efficient defensemen.

A quality goalie isn’t needed in every class but one is needed at least for every two classes.

The scoring problems for the University of Maine men’s hockey team result from the inability of coach Tim Whitehead and his staff to bring in goal scorers. Period.

They have been able to do so in the past.

Last year’s senior class, including Gustav Nyquist, who signed with the Detroit Red Wings after his junior year, had four 100-point scorers. That’s a noteworthy feat.

Goal scorers in any sport are cherished and sought by everybody.

They are the highest-paid players in professional sports because fans love goals.

Statistics show the primary reason Maine enters the Christmas break at 2-11-2 overall and 1-7-2 and in last place in Hockey East.

Maine is the lowest scoring team in the nation at 1.33 goals per game.

Maine’s 20 goals in its first 15 games are 13 fewer than its previous season-opening 15-game low. The Black Bears scored 33 goals through 15 games in the 2008-2009 season.

Their 1.33 goals-per-game average is exactly two goals fewer than they averaged last season.

And they have outshot their opponents 476-417. But their opponents have scored 22 more goals.

Maine has gone a school-record eight games without a home win (0-6-2), due primarily to the fact the Black Bears have scored only nine goals at Alfond Arena.

They have the nation’s second-worst power-play percentage at 7 percent (5-for-71). Only Harvard University has a worse percentage (6.1).

The irony?

Harvard and Maine led the nation in power-play percentage during 2011-12 at 27.3 and 26.7 percent, respectively.

Maine’s seven seniors have registered a dismal 250 points in 687 games.

That means, on average, one of them will notch a goal or an assist every 2.75 games.

The juniors register a point or an assist every 4.14 games; the sophomores every 6.78 games and the freshmen every 4.52 games.

There is simply no solution to this problem.

The players can talk about releasing their shots more quickly; driving the net with more urgency and tenacity; screening the goalie, etc.

It doesn’t matter.

They will score more often in the second half. How could they score any less?

But will they score enough to climb out of the Hockey East cellar?

Whitehead should play all eight freshmen skaters every night unless there is a good reason not to (i.e. poor practice habits, making the same mistakes over and over). Five of them have already played in at least 14 games.

So what if the freshmen make mistakes? They’ll learn from them.

If it means sitting veterans, so be it. If they aren’t producing, sit them.

And give freshman goalie Matt Morris at least one start in the next four games, all nonconference contests.

The freshmen hold the key to the future. It is a good class with potential point-producers such as current leading scorer Devin Shore, Will Merchant, Ryan Lomberg and Ben Hutton.

Sophomores Stu Higgins, Connor Leen and Jake Rutt should also continue to get significant playing time.

Sophomore defenseman Rutt has been one of the few bright spots along with the freshmen and he should continue getting a lot of minutes on the point on the power play along with impressive freshman Hutton.

Rutt and Hutton should see a lot of playing time in all situations in the second half.

Redshirt freshman Billy Norman, who had a game-high seven shots on goal in the 1-0 loss at Boston University on Dec. 8, should also start receiving quality minutes on the power-play point. Make a forward the other point man, someone who sees the ice well and has quick feet so he can create a shooting lane for himself. Leen would be a possibility.

Whitehead and his staff need to use the next four games to experiment with the lineup.

Maine’s only goal the rest of the season should be to make the Hockey East playoffs. Eight out of the 10 teams make it. Not making the league playoffs would be a disaster.

The team defense and the penalty-killing have been better of late but if the Black Bears’ scoring woes continue, it won’t matter how well they play defensively or how good the goaltending is.

There won’t be any postseason.

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/12/20/sports/coach-whitehead-needs-to-give-youngsters-more-playing-time-to-salvage-umaines-hockey-season/ printed on September 21, 2014