University of Maine freshman Conor Riley, who missed the last four games with a concussion, will return to the lineup against Merrimack this weekend and make his debut on defense.
He will replace junior Brice O’Connor, who suffered a concussion in the 6-0 loss to Merrimack on Saturday night.
Senior Nick Pryor remains sidelined with a concussion.
Riley has played in 17 games, all at forward and mostly on the left wing, but he is a defenseman by trade.
“He’s a very good defenseman,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “He was the defensive player of the year in the Eastern Junior Hockey League last year.
“But we had a bunch of injuries early and we needed him up front,” explained Whitehead who has used Riley on defense for a couple of shifts this season.
The 6-foot, 175-pound Riley said it doesn’t matter to him where he plays.
“There are good things about playing forward and good things about playing defense,” said Riley. “It’s 50-50. But I’m a little more comfortable playing defense.”
He is looking forward to returning to the lineup and will be looking for his first collegiate point.
“The defensive zone comes first,” said Riley, a native of Massena, N.Y. “But I’ll definitely look to jump up into the play, especially if I can beat the forechecker up the ice.”
He had 8 goals and 29 assists for the Valley Junior Warriors (Mass.) in the Eastern Junior Hockey League last season.
“He has played defense from time to time in practice and he looks good,” said Maine senior defenseman and tri-captain Mike Cornell.
With Pryor and O’Connor out, that means Maine’s defense corps will be made up of two seniors (Cornell and Mark Nemec), a sophomore (Jake Rutt) and three freshmen (Ben Hutton, Kyle Williams and Riley).
Redshirt freshman Billy Norman has been moved up front and he scored his first goal in the 1-1 overtime tie against Northeastern on Friday night.
He was playing right wing on a line with Stu Higgins and Adam Shemansky.
Senior center Klas Leidermark, who has been sidelined for four games due to a concussion, has been given a medical clearance to practice without contact.
Maine getting shots blocked
The Black Bears have tied a school record by being shut out for the sixth time this season on Saturday night.
Maine was shut out six times during the 2007-2008 season.
The Black Bears had been shut out just once over the previous three seasons combined entering this year.
One of the problems has been an inability to get the puck through to the opponents’ net.
This past weekend, the Black Bears had 57 of their 166 shot attempts blocked (34.3 percent).
They have had 84 of their 307 shot attempts (27.4 percent) blocked over the past four games.
In those four games, Maine has blocked 48 of the opponents’ 221 shot attempts blocked (21.7 percent).
“We’re getting opportunities but we’re not getting the shots through from the points,” said Whitehead. “And we aren’t getting second shots.”
“Merrimack is a very good shot-blocking team but we’ve got to take a second to move the direction of the puck,” said junior left wing Mark Anthoine.
“We’re definitely aware of it and we really focus on it,” said Cornell. “We’ve got to release our shots quicker and move laterally. We’ve got to get our feet moving before we shoot. We could also fake a shot [to create a better shooting lane].”
Maine is now 58th among 59 teams in scoring, averaging 1.52 goals per game.
Only independent Alabama-Huntsville (1.48) has averaged fewer goals per game.
“We can’t worry about how hard we’re going to shoot it,” said Riley. “We’ve got to get our shots through and let the forwards go to work. We need to take a quick step before we shoot.”