ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine’s men’s hockey team has scored 15 goals in its last three games.
But the Black Bears also have been getting the job done defensively.
Maine is currently the eighth-stingiest team among 59 Division I programs, allowing 2.09 goals per game.
In the previous five seasons, Maine never finished above 29th in team defense.
Senior goalie Martin Ouellette and his mates have given up only eight goals in their last six games. They followed an impressive 7-0 win over Boston University on Nov. 15 with a 5-1 triumph over No. 7 Boston College on Saturday night.
BC was the nation’s top-scoring team (4.5 goals per game).
“Our kids work hard at [defense],” said Maine coach Red Gendron. “We also have a very good goalie.
“Boston University and Boston College could have each scored a few more goals than they did. I’m happy where we stand right now. But we can still play better.”
Junior defenseman Jake Rutt of Scarborough said that “team defense starts from the goalie out and [Ouellette] has played very well.
“We’ve been trying to eliminate the Grade-A’s [high-percentage shots], keeping the shots out wide, picking guys up in the slot and out front and protecting the blue ice [crease area]. It’s been working,” he added.
Freshman linemates Cam Brown and Blaine Byron said the coaching staff made it clear that they had to take away BC’s time and space with the puck and to finish their checks.
“There were times in Saturday’s game that BC had the puck and we couldn’t get it away from them. But we didn’t let them penetrate,” said Gendron. “BC was bigger and stronger than we were. But we wouldn’t go away. That’s a team thing. That’s everyone on the team saying, ‘We know you can do certain things but we aren’t going to let you get to the prime scoring areas. We’re going to battle you tooth-and-nail.’
“That type of effort led to the victory,” added Gendron.
Ouellette is sporting a 1.32 goals-against average and a .956 save percentage over his last six starts and he now has the nation’s ninth-best save percentage and 14th-best GAA.
“I feel good. I’ve been playing well. I’ve been seeing the puck well,” said Ouellette. “The guys are making my job easy. They have confidence in me and I have confidence in them. We all work together.”
“They’re a good hockey team,” said BC coach Jerry York.
Another aspect of Maine’s defensive effort has been its penalty-killing. Maine has killed off 19 of 21 power plays over the last six games and is now operating at 85.1 percent efficiency, which is 12th-best in the country.
“[Assistant] coach [Ben] Guite has taken the lead in that. He has done a great job. He is very clear about the stuff he wants us to do and everyone buys into the system,” said sophomore center Devin Shore, who was named the co-Hockey East Player of the Week.
Maine also isn’t spending much time in the box, averaging just 9.1 penalty minutes per game, which is 54th in the country.
Bears enjoying home cooking
Maine is now 6-1 at home after playing in front of its first sell-out crowd in three years (5,125) on Saturday night. Maine was a dismal 2-9-6 at home last season.
“It was crazy. I couldn’t believe how packed it was. I couldn’t find an empty seat,” said Brown.
“It feels good,” said Ouellette. “It’s something we obviously wanted to do this year. We had a tough time at home last year and we didn’t want to subject our fans to that again. The fans have been awesome.”
Senior defenseman Brice O’Connor said he hasn’t seen a crowd like that since his freshman season.
“It’s exciting. They give you an extra step. When you’re tired at the end of a shift but you see the fans up on their feet, you can dig a little deeper and find a little extra,” he said.
“They say good teams win at home. We take a lot of pride in it. Our fans deserve wins. They’ve been a huge factor. When you cycle the puck and get a goal and hear the energy in the crowd, you can’t help but get extra legs,” said Shore.
“Now we need to win on the road,” added Shore, whose Black Bears will take an 0-3-1 road record to Vermont for a pair of nonconference games on Friday and Saturday.
Hutton shares national lead
Maine sophomore defenseman Ben Hutton’s six goals tie him with Denver’s Joey LaLeggia for the national lead among defensemen.
“That’s good news. I’m a little more confident this year but I’ve got to give my teammates credit. Josh Henke set me up for a half-breakaway on Saturday night and we’ve been working well on the power play. Hopefully, it’ll continue,” said Hutton.