ORONO, Maine — University of Maine senior right wing and tri-captain Joey Diamond has had an interesting career.
Entering the best-of-three Hockey East quarterfinal series at UMass Lowell, which begins Thursday night, he is tied for 51st on the school’s all-time scoring list with 104 points (59 goals, 45 assists) in 133 games. He is one point shy of cracking the top 50. He is also the school’s all-time penalty minutes leader with 439.
Diamond is one of those players you love to have on your team but you’d dislike if he was on the other team.
The hard-nosed Diamond finishes his checks, plays with passion and gets under the skin of his opponents.
He also occasionally irritates his own fans by taking penalties at inopportune times.
But his teammates and coaches said his positives far outweigh his negatives.
“Tenfold,” said freshman center and linemate Devin Shore.
Diamond has always been an exceptional corner man who uses his low center of gravity and strength to control pucks in the corners and behind the net. He is one of the nation’s top goal scorers over the last two seasons with 39 in his past 68 games.
Diamond was ranked fourth in the nation in goals per game last season (.68) and was fifth in goals (25).
He leads the Black Bears in goals (14) and points (24) entering the series against top seed UMass Lowell.
Maine is the eighth seed.
He leads the team in plus-minus with a plus-seven. Players are given a plus-one if they are on the ice when their team scores an even-strength or shorthanded goal and a minus-one if the opponent scores one.
He has 10 goals and 7 assists over his last 12 games. He missed two games due to a problematic back.
“He plays so hard. He has fought his way through injuries to lead the way,” Maine coach Tim Whitehead said. “He has had a tremendous second half. And the goals he scores are huge. He is a fierce competitor who comes through in big games.”
His two goals on Saturday helped Maine erase a pair of two-goal deficits to earn a 4-4 tie at New Hampshire. He had two goals and an assist, including the game-winning goal in overtime, in the 4-3 win over UMass Lowell on Feb., 3.
That came two days after his two third-period goals earned Maine a come-from-behind 2-2 tie with Providence.
In 12 Hockey East playoff games, he has 6 goals and 5 assists.
“He’s a big part of our team. He’s a great leader,” junior goalie Martin Ouellette said.
“I appreciate his style of game,” said Maine senior defenseman and tri-captain Mike Cornell. “He’s a gamer. You know what you’re going to get from him every night. And he’s a good guy in the locker room.”
It has been a challenging season.
Maine was 1-9-4 in Hockey East and in last place on Jan. 19, but has responded with a 6-3-4 record to earn the eighth and final playoff spot.
“I had never experienced being on a team that was 1-9-4,” Diamond said. “But I’m glad it happened. It made me realize how hard you have to work, how difficult things are and how good this league actually is.
“We have really turned it around in the second half, and that has made this a great experience for us,” Diamond said.
“This has been a big learning experience for me. I really enjoy all of my teammates and the coaching staff. Everyone here has made this experience very special for me,” he said.
While Diamond has racked up 119 penalty minutes this season, he feels “I haven’t taken that many bad penalties. Obviously, I’ve taken some. It’s something I’ve always had to deal with.”
But he says he has to play his gritty style to be effective.
“He’s drawn more penalties than he’s received this season,” said Whitehead, who benched Diamond earlier in his career for taking penalties.
“He has to play his game,” insisted Shore, who enjoys being his linemate. “I love to talk during games and I’m always asking him questions in games or in practice. He has been amazing that way. He always answers my questions. He has been there before.”
The other member of the line, freshman left wing Ryan Lomberg, said Diamond has “been exactly what we’ve needed since we’re a real young team. He has showed us the way and we’ve followed his lead. And he has taken us pretty far.”
Lomberg has been compared to Diamond in their styles of play.
“That’s a huge compliment,” Lomberg said.
Diamond said the freshman duo are a “lot of fun” to be around.
“They’ve been great,” Diamond said. “They’re a lot of fun off the ice, too. They’re goofballs. It has been a great experience for me. Everyone sees how bright their future is. I’m really excited for them and all of the freshmen. It’s been cool seeing how much fun they’re having.”
Diamond knows this weekend will be a formidable task against a River Hawk team that is 18-3-1 in its last 22 games.
“Lowell has a great team. They won the league title,” Diamond said. “We’ve had tough games with them. We know what they’re bringing to the table, and I think they know what we’re bringing to the table. It should be a good weekend of college hockey.”