ORONO, Maine — It had been a difficult season for University of Maine senior right wing and tri-captain Joey Diamond.
Coming off a year in which he led the team in goals with 25 and was tied for fifth nationally while also sharing the national lead in power-play goals with 11, Diamond had just one goal through his first 11 games to go with three assists.
His departed linemates from Maine’s 2011-2012 NCAA Tournament team were the nation’s leading scorer in Hobey Baker Award finalist Spencer Abbott and 10th-leading point-getter Brian Flynn. Diamond finished one point behind Flynn with 47 points.
But Diamond has caught fire and it couldn’t have come at a better time, as Maine has climbed from last place to eighth in its pursuit of one of the eight playoff spots in the 10-team Hockey East, thanks to its four-game unbeaten streak (3-0-1).
The Bears will face ninth-place Vermont, which is just one point behind the Black Bears, at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Gutterson Fieldhouse in Burlington, Vt.
Diamond has scored at least one goal in the last six games against UVM.
“He’s skilled and very courageous,” said Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy. “He’ll get to the tough spots against guys twice his size. He doesn’t shy away. He plays on the edge.
“I don’t think too many teams in our league wouldn’t want him,” added Dennehy.
Providence College coach Nate Leaman called him a “dynamic player.
“He reminds me a lot of [former Black Bear] Steve Kariya. He has short quick strides and he stops and starts. He’s very tough to contain in small areas because he’ll cut back on you,” said Leaman. “He’s very good around the net and he has the ability to spin off guys.”
Diamond figured in five of Maine’s six goals in its 2-2 overtime tie with Providence and 4-3 overtime win over UMass Lowell last weekend. He had four goals and an assist, including Friday’s tying goal and Saturday’s game-winner. He has six goals and two assists in his last five games.
“I’ve been playing well but the whole team has been playing well and we’re winning games,” said Diamond. “We’ve been trying to get better every day in practice. That has been our main focus.
“I’m happy I can contribute the way I am right now. I just want to keep contributing,” added the 5-foot-6, 175-pound Diamond, who was slowed up by a nagging back injury earlier this season. “I’m getting more scoring chances now. They were hard to come by earlier this year. But everyone is clicking now and everyone realizes we can win games in this league.”
“He has been fabulous. He has been the Joey of old,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “He was the best player on the ice last weekend. He won puck battles, made plays and had some big blocked shots.”
The other key to Diamond’s success is that he’s staying out of the penalty box. The school’s all-time penalty minutes leader (401) hasn’t taken a penalty in his last three games and has been assessed just two minor penalties in his last five.
“If we’re going to win, we’ve got to stay out of the box. That has been another focus. And I’ve done that the past few games,” said Diamond, who has a team-high 10 goals and 15 points.
Diamond would love to add to his scoring total against Vermont but, more importantly, he wants a win.
The hard-nosed Diamond will go into the game with 95 career points (55 & 40) in 126 games as he closes in on the 100-point plateau.
“I’m not thinking about that right now,” said Diamond, who added that he will have time to reflect on his accomplishments after the season.