The difference between success and failure in sports is often more mental than physical.
It is a matter of believing in yourself, your teammates and your coaching staff.
It is also believing in the system or style of play that the coaches employ for the specific purpose of giving you the best chance to win.
Young teams can sometimes struggle with this notion.
When success doesn’t come your way, especially if you are used to winning, insecurity can creep into your game and you tend to revert to the way you played when you had success.
In most cases, that’s a no-no because you are now playing against bigger, stronger, older players.
Maine men’s hockey coach Tim Whitehead has had to rely on his freshmen and sophomores to make immediate impacts this season.
They have been placed in important roles and have shown the improvement necessary to make key contributions.
They have combined with a number of veterans to spark Maine’s current 3-0-1 run which included two road wins over No. 3 Boston College and Sunday’s 4-3 win over a No. 13 UMass Lowell team that had gone 10-1-1 in its previous 12 games.
Senior right wing Joey Diamond (six goals, two assists in his last five games), reliable senior defensemen Mark Nemec and Mike Cornell, junior right wing Jon Swavely (2 & 1 in four games) and junior goaltender Martin Ouellette (1.72 goals-against average, .947 save percentage in the last four games) are among the veterans who have been instrumental in their recent success.
Ouellette has been the backbone of the team since the middle of November and gives them a chance to win virtually every time he takes the ice. He has held opponents to two goals or less in 12 starts and has given up more than three just once (4 vs. Merrimack in 6-0 loss).
Diamond and Ouellette have been game-changers.
The Black Bears are fully aware of their blueprint for success and the sweep at Boston College, where they had been outscored 29-7 in a six-game losing streak at Conte Forum, gave them a huge boost of confidence.
Their first win of the season at Alfond Arena over UMass Lowell should have lifted a huge weight off their shoulders.
Seven freshmen and sophomores have registered at least a point in the four-game unbeaten streak, combining for five goals and 11 assists.
Can the eighth-place Black Bears (8-14-5) continue a strong run to the finish and earn a Hockey East Tournament spot?
They can, but it isn’t going to be easy.
They have games against the three teams they are closest to in the standings, 10th-place Northeastern (two at Maine), ninth-place Vermont (one at UVM on Saturday) and seventh-place UMass (two at UMass).
Smothering team defense will be a must. Maine gave up way too many odd-man rushes (3-on-2s, 2-on-1s) in the 2-2 overtime tie with Providence.
That resulted because the third forechecker wound up too low in the offensive zone so he couldn’t get back in time to backcheck efficiently. All three forwards got caught too deep.
Since the Bears are still averaging less than two goals a game (1.78), they have to avoid high-scoring affairs, although they are better equipped to win a high-scoring game than they were earlier this season.
The power play, which had been dreadful, needs to feed off its 3-for-9 showing over the weekend to supply that one extra goal that could make the difference between winning and losing.
If you exclude empty-net goals, Maine has played in 20 games either decided by one goal or less (including ties).
They are used to being in close games. Every goal is precious.
They have played some of their best hockey against the nation’s top teams and must believe they are a much-improved team in the second half.
Their discipline has been better, they are no longer one of college hockey’s 10 most penalized teams. They are 15th (14.4 penalty minutes per game).
They control their own destiny.