Black Bears eager to reverse home-ice woes of last year, host Bentley on Saturday night

University of Maine's Devin Shore (right) gets around Merrimack's Shawn Bates for the puck in first period action of the Black Bears game Friday night, Jan. 18, 2013, at Alfond Arena.
Linda Coan O'Kresik
University of Maine's Devin Shore (right) gets around Merrimack's Shawn Bates for the puck in first period action of the Black Bears game Friday night, Jan. 18, 2013, at Alfond Arena. Buy Photo
Posted Oct. 18, 2013, at 5:48 p.m.

ORONO, Maine —- It stuck out like an extremely swollen thumb.

The University of Maine men’s hockey team’s embarrassing 2-9-6 home record last season came after 11 seasons in which the Black Bears had averaged 12.2 home wins per year.

Maine went 0-8-4 in its first 12 home games before beating UMass Lowell 4-3 on Feb. 3.

The home record was certainly one of the factors that cost coach Tim Whitehead his job after 12 seasons with one year remaining on his contract.

The Black Bears have already won one home game, although it doesn’t count because it was an exhibition: a 5-1 victory over an undermanned and road-weary Dalhousie University team (Nova Scotia).

Maine will try to get win No. 1 on Saturday night when it entertains Bentley University (Mass.) from Atlantic Hockey at 7:30.

Maine is 0-2 after getting swept on the road at St. Lawrence last weekend. Bentley is 1-2 after splitting at Nebraska-Omaha and losing to Sacred Heart (Conn.) 3-1 on Wednesday night.

“This should be a home ice advantage for us. Our fans our incredible,” said sophomore center Devin Shore, who rationalized that last year’s home record may have simply been a case of it “not being our year.”

“But this is a new year. We’re excited about the home crowd. We have a clean slate,” said Shore. “We definitely want this to be a tough place to play for visiting teams. It starts with hard work and winning (puck) battles. That will get the crowd into it, and we can feed off that emotion to put pucks in the net.”

Maine averaged just 1.94 goals per game at Alfond Arena.

“We want to set the tone right away,” said junior center Stu Higgins, who missed the St. Lawrence series with a groin pull but pronounced himself 100 percent fit for Saturday’s game.

“If we come out and play hard right away and feed off the energy of the crowd, it’ll be a good outcome,” added Higgins.

Some players acknowledged that they may have put too much pressure on themselves to try to please the home crowd a year ago, but Higgins said that goes with the territory.

“There’s always going to be pressure. The fans expect us to win and we expect to win. We like that pressure. If you don’t, you shouldn’t be playing college hockey,” said Higgins.

Junior defenseman Jake Rutt said although the Dalhousie triumph was just an exhibition, it was a positive for them.

Maine has lost 1,700 season ticket-holders over the last five seasons as the Bears have made just one NCAA Tournament appearance in six years after a string of nine straight appearances.

“It is obvious that the more games we win at home, the odds are in our favor that more people will come to watch us play,” deadpanned first-year coach Red Gendron.

The Falcons return their top eight scorers, their entire defense and goalie Branden Komm off last year’s 12-20-3 team. Senior right wing Brett Gensler has 117 career points in 114 games.

In their only previous meeting, the Falcons stunned the Bears 3-1 in Orono on Jan. 16, 2009.

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