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Resilient Black Bears showing improvement during unbeaten stretch

Kevin Bennett | BDN
Kevin Bennett | BDN
Providence's goalie Jon Gillies covers the puck with pressure from UMaine's Kyle Beattie during first period action at Orono on Friday, Feb. 1, 2013.
By Larry Mahoney, BDN Staff

ORONO — Providence College hockey coach Nate Leaman calls the University of Maine’s men’s hockey team “resilient.”

He also feels the team has the ingredients necessary to continue its winning ways.

Maine is 6-3-3 since Christmas and 3-0-1 in its last four games, its longest unbeaten streak of the season.

Maine is now 8-14-5 overall, 4-9-5 in Hockey East.

“They get to the net well and get pucks to the net. They play very good defense and their goaltending is good. That’s a recipe for winning,” said Leaman, a former Black Bear and Old Town High School assistant coach.

“They’re a good team,” said Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy. “Having as many young players in important positions, it makes sense that they would struggle early. It doesn’t surprise me to see what they’re doing now. Those were hard-fought points for us.”

Merrimack went 2-0-1 against Maine.

“We’re starting to form a team identity,” said Maine sophomore defenseman Jake Rutt. “We know we have to give it our all and the only way to win is to be the hardest-working team out there. We aren’t going to be a pretty team but we’ve been getting timely goals and we’ve been getting some wins here and there.”

The 4-3 overtime win over UMass Lowell on Sunday afternoon supplied the Black Bears with their first victory at Alfond Arena after eight losses and four ties.

“That was a big sigh of relief,” said Rutt. “It took a little too long. But, again, we reverted to our road mentality and we were able to gut out a victory.”

Maine has moved into the eighth and final playoff spot in Hockey East, one point ahead of Vermont and two in front of Northeastern. Maine is two points behind seventh-place UMass, but UMass has played one fewer game.

“We’re very pleased with the team’s progress since Christmas,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “It has been a lot of hard work. The guys have been getting after it every day, working to improve on and off the ice. And they have earned confidence with victories over teams like Minnesota-Duluth, Cornell and the two over Boston College.

“We’ve made quicker progress on the defensive side but we’re getting a little more production offensively,” he added. “We aren’t going to out-offense teams, but we feel we can be successful playing great team defense and capitalizing when we get our chances.”

He also said his team has recently been able to make plays and avoid mistakes at critical points.

During the last 12 games, Maine has received goals from 11 different players.

Senior right wing Joey Diamond has been the catalyst with seven goals during the stretch, including six in the last five games and four in the last two. He missed the first two games, in the Florida College Classic, with a back injury. He also two assists in the stretch.

He had the game-tying goal in the 2-2 overtime tie with Providence on Friday night and the game-winner in overtime against UMass Lowell on Sunday.

Freshman right wing Ryan Lomberg has five goals, including three game-winners, and an assist. Senior center Kyle Beattie and sophomore left wing Connor Leen have 4 & 3 each; freshman center Devin Shore has 1 & 5 in the 12 games, senior defenseman and tri-captain Mike Cornell has 1 & 4 and freshman center Steven Swavely has 0 & 5.

Junior goalie Martin Ouellette has a 2.03 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage while starting 11 of the 12 games.

Beattie sidelined indefinitely

Beattie suffered his third concussion of the season when he was hit into the boards by Providence’s Tim Schaller during the second period of Friday’s game.

He missed the UMass Lowell game.

“We’re hoping to get him back as soon as possible but it’s going to be a while,” said Whitehead. “It was a serious concussion. Each concussion is different so it’s too early to tell [when he’ll return]. But he is feeling better.”

Beattie has 4 goals and 5 assists in 20 games and leads the team in power-play points with six (2 & 4).

“He was our first-line center and was doing some real good things for us. He’s really mature and he’s a great leader. We’ll miss him,” said Whitehead.

Senior defenseman Nick Pryor (17 games, 2 assists) remains out of the lineup with a concussion that has sidelined him for the past eight games, but freshman defenseman Ben Hutton (23 games, 2 & 5) could return for Saturday’s important conference game at Vermont. He has missed four games with an upper body injury.

“It’ll depend on how he heals this week,” said Whitehead. “We’d love to get him back. “

Hutton has been used in all situations.and has 1 & 3 on the power play.

On Sunday, Maine regained the services of two players who had also been sidelined by concussions in junior defenseman Brice O’Connor and senior center Klas Leidermark.

O’Connor returned to the lineup after a five-game absence and Leidermark hadn’t played since getting hurt in the 6-4 win over Cornell in the Florida College Classic on Dec. 29.

Leidermark had been cleared to play a few weeks ago but had been a healthy scratch.

Whitehead said he felt both played well in their returns.

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