ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine men’s hockey team, coming off a tough 2-1 loss at Quinnipiac on a last-minute goal, will now turn their sights to Boston and Saturday night’s Frozen Fenway game against Boston University.
Maine beat New Hampshire 5-4 in overtime in its first and only Fenway game on Jan. 7, 2012.
Stu Higgins, Mark Anthoine, Connor Leen, Brice O’Connor and Jon Swavely are the only holdovers who played in that game, and it left a lasting memory.
“It was probably the best experience I’ve had here at Maine. I can’t wait to do it again,” said junior center Higgins.
“It was an amazing experience,” said senior left wing Anthoine of Lewiston, who had two goals in the Fenway game. “It is still, to this day, probably one of my most memorable hockey moments. I was fortunate to have a couple of goals, and we won in overtime, which was awesome, especially against UNH. It’s a completely different experience just being out there. Granted, it was a little warmer, and it might be a little different this year. It’s probably going to be cold.”
The time for Saturday’s game has been changed from 6:30 p.m. to 5:45 p.m. by Fenway Sports Management to avoid the game overlapping the 8:15 p.m. start of the New England Patriots home AFC playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts.
For the Frozen Fenway game two years ago, the night was unusually warm, temperatures were in the 60s during the day, and the ice conditions provided a challenge.
“It was hot. Even just sitting on the bench it was pretty warm,” Swavely said.
“I don’t expect it to be like that this time. It will be pretty cold out. We’ll have to find ways to keep ourselves warm during timeouts and what-not,” he added.
“It was hot and the ice was definitely choppy,” recalled Higgins. “But when you have guys on your team like Brian Flynn and Spencer Abbott, they’re going to make plays.”
The Weather Channel’s extended weather forecast for Boston calls for a 50 percent chance of rain on Saturday and a high temperature of 46 degrees.
Senior goalie Martin Ouellette and junior defenseman Jake Rutt were on the team but didn’t play in that 2012 Fenway game. That has heightened their excitement for Saturday’s match.
“I’m very excited. I’m a huge Red Sox fan and, the time before, I was in Tim Wakefield’s locker. That was pretty cool,” said Rutt, who was a healthy scratch. “It should be a memory for a lifetime.”
“It was a great experience even though I didn’t play. I’ll be playing this time, so it will be totally different. I can’t wait,” said Ouellette who backed up Dan Sullivan that night. “I won’t be skating around like the other players so, hopefully, I won’t get too cold out there. Maybe I’ll wear some extra stuff under my equipment.
“But I’m sure I’ll be fine. With the heat of the game, I’m sure I won’t get too cold out there,” said Ouellette.
For players like freshman center Cam Brown and sophomore center Devin Shore, it will be a first-time experience.
“Fenway Park is 20 miles from my house,” said Brown, who is from Natick, Mass. “It’s going to be a really cool experience. I was watching the [Frozen Fenway] games on Saturday night, and it was like playing outside backyard hockey.”
He was referring to the 1-1 tie between Providence and Merrimack and Boston College’s 4-3 win over Notre Dame.
“As soon as we heard it was going to happen, we circled it on our calendars,” said Shore. “Now that it’s finally here, I can’t wait to get it going.”
The players said that due to the likelihood of choppy ice, the key will be to simplify their game.
“You can’t fool around with the puck. You don’t want to turn it over at either blue line,” said Higgins. “Getting it deep [into the offensive zone] is essential. I remember Brian Flynn coughed the puck up because of the bad ice, and [Kevin] Goumas got a breakaway. Things like that can happen, so you have to watch for that. You have to be really focused.”
“We may not be able to tic-tac-toe the puck like we could indoors. We’ve got to work on hammering down our systems and make sure everything is sharp. Who knows how the bounces are going to go,” said Shore.
Shore’s shorthanded goal against Quinnipiac was Maine’s seventh of the season. Only Mercyhurst has more with eight.
Shore, Steven Swavely and Anthoine have two apiece, and defenseman Ben Hutton has one.
“When you put talented players on the ice on the penalty kill, there’s a chance they can score. It’s really that simple,” said Maine coach Red Gendron.
“We don’t sit back on the penalty kill, we like to pressure the puck,” said Anthoine. “We try to force teams to make decisions, and sometimes those decisions wind up on our sticks and we go down the ice.”
Maine has the nation’s 10th-best penalty-killing percentage at 85.1 percent, and the team has surrendered just 10 power-play goals in 70 chances.
Maine hasn’t allowed a power-play goal over its last five games, but the Black Bears have given opponents just 12 chances over those five games and seven over the last four.