Black Bears face daunting task at UNH’s Whittemore Center in playoff quest

By Larry Mahoney, BDN Staff
Posted March 04, 2013, at 6:54 p.m.

ORONO — On Feb. 4, 2005, Billy Ryan scored a pair of goals and Jimmy Howard made 28 saves as the University of Maine’s hockey team beat New Hampshire 3-1 at the Whittemore Center in Durham, N.H.

That was the last time Maine has beaten its archrival in Durham, although they do have two wins over the Wildcats in Manchester, N.H.

The Black Bears have lost the last nine meetings and are 6-18-1 at the Whittemore Center all-time. But they aren’t dwelling on the past.

After all, they had gone 0-8-1 in their previous nine meetings at Conte Forum against Boston College before sweeping the Eagles 4-1 and 3-1 on Jan. 25-26.

“We don’t care that we haven’t won there [recently]. We hadn’t won at BC either,” senior center Klas Leidermark said. “It’s about time we won down there.”

The Black Bears know this weekend’s series at UNH will dictate their Hockey East playoff future.

They will enter the weekend with a one-point lead over UMass for the eighth and final playoff spot in the 10-team league. They are two points behind Vermont for the seventh spot. UMass has a home-and-home series with Merrimack while Vermont entertains Boston College for a pair.

Maine loses tiebreakers to Vermont (head-to-head, UVM 2-0-1) and UMass (league wins, UMass 8-6), so it must finish ahead of one of those two teams in points to qualify for the playoffs.

“We’re focusing on what we can control. We aren’t going to worry about what the other teams are doing,” Maine senior defenseman Mark Nemec said. “We’ve had a lot of close games down there. I remember the one when [Gustav] Nyquist hit the post [with 37 seconds left in regulation of a 4-4 game] and then they came down and scored.”

Nemec was referring to a Feb. 5, 2011 game.

“Anything can happen. We’re looking forward to it. It’s going to be a great challenge,” said Nemec.

Senior center/right wing Kyle Beattie agreed. “We aren’t going to be intimidated because of our past record. We can’t think about that kind of stuff. We’ve just got to focus on our game and give it our best shot,” he said.

“We played great at BC and there’s no reason we can’t [play great] down there,” Beattie said.

The Whittemore Center has an Olympic-sized playing surface (100 by 200 feet), so it is 15 feet wider than the ice at Maine’s Alfond Arena.

“We’ve played well on big rinks. We have good speed. Our team is better suited to playing on Olympic-sized sheets,” junior right wing Mark Anthoine said.

Maine split a pair of games at UMass’ Mullins Center (95-foot width) two weekends ago. That is the league’s second-widest rink.

The Black Bears have gone 2-2-1 against teams that play on rinks that are either 90 feet wide (Boston University, Vermont, Northeastern) or 87 feet (Boston College).

The other rinks (UMass Lowell, Merrimack, Providence) and Alfond Arena are 85 feet wide.

“We’ll be able to use our speed. If we can spread them out and get to their net, I think we’ll be all right,” Nemec said.

Maine also has a better road record than home record, going 4-7-1 away from the Alfond Arena (all Hockey East games) and 2-9-6 at home ( 2-5-6 Hockey East).

“With the way we’ve been playing, we’re going to be comfortable going down there,” Nemec said. “We’re going to have to control our emotions. We’ve got to avoid taking penalties. UNH doesn’t take many.”

UNH has taken the second-fewest penalty minutes among the 59 Division I teams (9 penalty minutes per game). Maine has taken the 14th most (14).

UNH will enter the game one point behind UMass Lowell in the battle for first place and one point ahead of Boston College and Providence, who are tied for third.

Beattie said he likes the fact they switched Saturday’s game from a night game to an afternoon game. The switch was made so it can be televised by the New England Sports Network.

“We always play well in afternoon games,” said Beattie. “We’re in great condition, so we won’t have to worry about a quick turnaround.”

Maine plays at 7:30 p.m. Friday and at 4 p.m. on Saturday.

Beattie pleased with return

Beattie, who returned to the lineup after missing six games with his third concussion of the season, had a goal and an assist in the 3-1 win and 4-4 tie with Northeastern this past weekend.

Beattie, who played right wing on a line with Will Merchant and Steven Swavely, said he was “pleased” with the way he played.

“You never know what you’re going to be able to give after missing a month of play. But I was able to work out and skate a lot more when I wasn’t playing [than after the previous concussion], so I didn’t lose as much speed or quickness as I did that time,” Beattie said.

“My head felt fine and my energy was good, although I definitely started to feel it in my legs a little bit at the end of the second game,” Beattie said. “And my body was pretty sore [after Saturday’s game]. But another week of practice should help out.”

Hutton with five-game streak

Maine freshman defenseman Ben Hutton had an assist in Saturday’s game to extend his point streak to five games (2 goals, 3 assists). Both of his goals were game-winners and came on the power play, as did two of his assists.

“It feels good. I’m getting some help. I’m just throwing pucks to the net and guys are burying rebounds, which is great,” Hutton said.

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/03/04/sports/ice-hockey-sports/black-bears-face-daunting-task-at-unhs-whittemore-center-in-playoff-quest/ printed on September 22, 2014