Last-place Maine hockey team faces daunting schedule but is ready to tackle task

University of Maine’s head coach Tim Whitehead shouts to a player during the first period against Merrimack College at Alfond Arena Friday night. Maine, which tied Merrimack Friday night and lost Saturday night, finds itself in a battle for a Hockey East playoff spot.
Linda Coan O'Kresik
University of Maine’s head coach Tim Whitehead shouts to a player during the first period against Merrimack College at Alfond Arena Friday night. Maine, which tied Merrimack Friday night and lost Saturday night, finds itself in a battle for a Hockey East playoff spot. Buy Photo
Posted Jan. 21, 2013, at 5:17 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 22, 2013, at 12:32 a.m.

ORONO, Maine — It appears to be a daunting task.

When looking at the University of Maine men’s hockey team’s remaining schedule, it is going to take a dramatic turnaround for the Black Bears to make the Hockey East playoffs.

Eight of the 10 teams qualify but Maine is currently in last place, four points adrift of Northeastern and Vermont, who are tied for eighth place. Maine has played one fewer game than Northeastern and Vermont.

Making matters worse is six of Maine’s final 13 games are against front-runners Boston College, New Hampshire and Boston University.

This weekend, Maine visits Boston College’s Conte Forum, where the Black Bears haven’t won since Oct. 28, 2005. Maine is 0-8-1 in its last nine visits to Chestnut Hill, Mass.

The Bears finish the regular season at UNH’s Whittemore Center, where they haven’t won since Feb. 4, 2005. Maine has lost nine straight in Durham.

Boston University visits Alfond Arena on Feb. 15-16 and the Terriers have made Alfond Arena their home away from home. The Terriers are 7-1-2 in their last 10 trips to Orono.

Maine will also visit UMass for a pair (Feb. 22-23) and Vermont (Feb. 9) for one while hosting Northeastern for two (March 1-2) and Providence (Feb. 1) and UMass Lowell (Feb. 3) for single games.

Maine’s goal-scoring woes continue as the Black Bears are 58th among 59 teams in goals per game (1.52) and on the power play (9 percent efficiency rate).

Maine junior left wing Mark Anthoine feels the Black Bears can use the challenging schedule to their advantage despite their struggles this season, as they are 5-14-4 overall and 1-9-4 in Hockey East.

“Being an underdog is always a benefit,” said Anthoine. “Teams could take us lightly. They may not be on the top of their game.”

Senior left wing Adam Shemansky said they can’t dwell on the schedule.

“We know they’re a great team with a lot of firepower. But there’s parity all over the place in Hockey East,” Shemansky said. “Even when we were at the top of the standings the last few years, we had to be ready for everybody.”

He said it doesn’t matter who they play or where, they have to stick to the game plan if they’re going to have success.

“We all have to be on the same page. If we do that, we feel we’ll give ourselves a chance to win, especially with the way our goaltenders have been playing,” said Shemansky.

Maine will enter the Friday-Saturday night series winless in its last five games (0-3-2).

The tie and loss to Merrimack this past weekend left the Bears staring at an 0-8-3 home record. Maine has been outscored 34-14 at Alfond Arena.

A frustrating aspect of Maine’s 5-14-4 record is the fact that it has been involved in 19 games decided by one goal or less, excluding empty-net goals. Maine is 5-9-4 in those games.

“We’re getting there. We’re taking steps, small steps. If we keep going and stick with the path, we’re going to win some of these games. We’re getting a lot of good experience in tight games,” said Shemansky. “We have to use [the close games] as motivation to keep going. There’s no sense getting down.”

“[The close games] puts things into perspective,” said Anthoine. “Some of those games, we just didn’t get the right bounces. In other games, maybe we had a breakdown or two. We’re still trying to put the puzzle together.

“It’s frustrating,” he added. “You’re on the edge of your seat the whole time. Half the time, we come back and are so close but we don’t end up grabbing the points.”

Anthoine said the locker room atmosphere has been positive.

“We’ve stayed together as a team,” said Anthoine. “We’re still a really good family. We’re pushing through. We aren’t giving up. We’ve had consistently good goaltending, which is a huge factor for us. We’ve got to compete for 60-65 minutes every night.”

Freshman center Devin Shore said the close scores “show how close we are. We just have to do that little bit extra to turn those [losses and ties] into wins. We have to have the right mindset. We have to go into games expecting to win and doing what it takes to win. If we can keep our confidence up, keep a positive attitude and go out there loving to play, good things can happen.”

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