ORONO — The University of Maine men’s hockey team has had a frustrating start on the road.
Maine’s 0-5-1 road record marks its worst start since the 1985-86 season when the Black Bears lost their first 10 road games before winning at Division III Bowdoin College in Brunswick.
Maine wound up losing its first 13 away games to Division I opponents before beating Providence 3-2.
The primary issue for the Bears on the road is goal production. Maine has scored only nine goals in its six games. Maine has scored five even-strength goals and four power-play goals.
Maine is 6-1 at home and has scored 30 goals, 18 of which were even-strength. There have been nine power-play goals and three shorthanders.
But coach Red Gendron and the Maine players aren’t pushing the panic button. They feel the road wins will come.
“In our six road games, we were in position to win five of them in the third period,” said Gendron. “We aren’t far off. We have to do more little things perfectly.”
“We just have to stay the course,” said sophomore center Devin Shore. “We have to stay committed to our system and our work ethic. It’s tough to win on the road but the wins will come eventually. We just have to work harder.
“Goals have been tougher to come by. But we have to bear down, get to the net, put more pucks on net and do a better job screening and getting deflections,” added Shore.
Senior goalie Martin Ouellette pointed out “we haven’t played badly on the road but, at the same time, we’ve got to find a way to win. We were tied going into the third period each night at Vermont but they found a way to score that winning goal. We’ve got to get grittier and get some of those dirty goals [close to the net]. I’m not too worried about it. We’ll win on the road.”
Junior left wing Connor Leen said they will “definitely turn it around.”
“The games we’ve lost have been pretty much close games. We need to focus on the little stuff. Hopefully the bounces will go our way if we keep working hard,” said Leen.
Maine hit three goalposts in the 5-2 loss at Vermont. Vermont’s last two goals were empty-netters.
Leen feels he and his mates have to keep getting pucks to the net and try to “get inside [position]” on opposing defensemen in order to produce those dirty goals.
“That will help down the stretch,” he said.
“We’ve got a very young team. It comes with experience. We’ll keep getting better and better on the road,” said senior right wing Jon Swavely.
Sophomore defenseman/forward Bill Norman said they have to keep working on their goal-scoring skills.
“I thought we outworked Vermont both nights but we didn’t put the puck in the net [enough],” said Norman.
Bears implement Sunday practices
Gendron has implemented Sunday practices, including weightlifting, this season rather than having Sundays off and practicing on Mondays like former coach Tim Whitehead preferred.
The Black Bears have Mondays as their mandatory NCAA day off from practice.
Gendron has explained that by lifting on Sundays and Tuesday rather than Mondays and Wednesdays, the players won’t be as sore entering Friday’s games. Sunday’s on-ice practices last just an hour and are designed to work on skills and creating a high tempo. They avoid contact on Sundays and have a variety of competitions.
Last Sunday, one drill involved moving both nets up to each blue line and laying a stick across the middle of the ice. One player had the puck behind the net and skated toward the other net, flipped the puck over the stick, and then tried to corral the puck and get off a quick shot on goal before he ran out of room.
Goalies were in the net trying to stop them.
Gendron and the players keep score so there is a healthy competition involved.
“[Sunday practices] took a little bit of getting used to for the first month,” said Swavely. “But I like it. Instead of laying around all day Sunday and having the day go to waste, we make something of the day. You can work on things you need to work on.”
“It’s a fun atmosphere out there,” said Leen. “They’ve given us some fun stuff to do and we also have things we’re working on. It’s great for the team. It creates more competition.
“And a body in motion stays in motion,” added Leen. “We want to stay on the ice as much as we can.”
“Sleeping in too late is unhealthy and the Sunday practices are different every week [which makes it enjoyable],” said Shore.
“I love them. I get to see a lot of shots. It’s fun for everyone. We play different games and we always keep score,” said Ouellette.
The players also said they like to have that gap between their last lifting day and the next game.
“It not only gives us more rest time, we can attack [weight training] more,” said Swavely.