ORONO — The University of Maine men’s hockey team has taken care of business at home this season with six wins in seven games.
The Black Bears were 2-9-6 at Alfond Arena a year ago.
But the 6-4-1 Bears have yet to win on the road this season. Maine will try to avenge its only home loss when it visits 5-5-1 Vermont for a two-game, non-conference series Friday and Saturday nights.
Maine is 0-3-1 on the road and, beginning with the Florida College Classic on Dec. 28, it will begin a stretch of seven straight games either on the road or at a neutral site.
“These games are definitely important. We have to get that first road win under our belts to get us ready for the rest of the way,” said senior defenseman and captain Brice O’Connor.
The teams split a Hockey East series Nov. 8-9 in Orono with Maine winning the first night 2-0 and the Catamounts capturing the second game 4-3.
Maine is coming off home wins over Boston University (7-0) and Boston College (5-1) on successive weekends while UVM swept a home-and-home set with Massachusetts, 3-2 and 2-0.
“We’ve beaten two good teams at home so winning on the road is the next step for us,” said junior center Stu Higgins. “We’ve had two real tough practices this week. Coach (Red Gendron) has really challenged us. He has tried to simulate some things that would happen on the road … getting us used to noise and stuff like that. He has given us some new challenges we haven’t seen before so we’ll be poised to try to get two wins.”
“(Gendron) made a big point in practice about communication being big on the road. We’ve got to communicate a lot more,” said sophomore defenseman Conor Riley.
The Black Bears are anxious to avenge that loss in which UVM scored three unanswered goals in a span of 10:15 in the second period and held off a late Maine rally.
“We owe them,” said Higgins. “They deserved the credit for that win but, at times, we didn’t play our best. We need to play a full 60 minutes. We didn’t challenge their goalie enough. Coach has been stressing getting shots on net.”
They are two of the stingiest teams in college hockey. Maine is eighth in team defense (2.09 goals allowed per game) while UVM is tied for 12th (2.36).
“They’re tough to play against. They’re gritty like we are. We like to put a little more pressure on teams. They sit back a little bit more and play a more defensive-oriented system. They’re a pretty big team and they like to hit,” said Higgins. “(Gendron) jokingly calls us a bunch of Smurfs and that’s our identity. We’re going to have to (constantly) move our feet to get around them.”
Vermont is a very good shot-blocking team.
“We want to play a fast tempo. That’s who we are,” said Gendron. “We have to get our shots off quickly before they can position themselves in the shooting lanes. We’ll have to do everything more rapidly.”
Maine is led by sophomore center Devin Shore (4 goals, 6 assists) and defenseman Ben Hutton (6 & 3) along with freshman center Cam Brown (1 & 8), senior left wing Mark Anthoine (5 & 3) and senior goalie Martin Ouellette (6-4-1, 1.99 goals-against average, .934 save percentage).
Senior RW Chris McCarthy (3 & 5), freshman LW Mario Puskarich (4 & 2), junior C Jake Fallon (2 & 4) and freshman defenseman Rob Hamilton (1 & 5) have paced UVM, which uses a two-goalie rotation involving freshman Mike Santaguida (4-3-1, 2.36, .922) and sophomore Brody Hoffman (1-2, 2.36, .920).