ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine men’s hockey team was disappointed to emerge from Northeastern University with just one point in two games over the weekend in Boston.
Maine gave up a goal with 1:11 remaining in regulation on Friday night which cost them a win in the 4-4 overtime tie. Northeastern won Saturday night’s game 4-3 to leapfrog Maine in the Hockey East standings.
Teams receive two points for a win and one for a tie.
But the Black Bears still control their own destiny and will have a chance to earn a top-four finish in Hockey East this weekend when they entertain Providence College for games at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
“As disappointing as this past weekend was, the great thing about it is [our fate] is still in our hands. But just because we’re home this weekend doesn’t guarantee wins. Providence is a very good team,” said senior center Jon Swavely. “We have to prepare like we have been all season and take another step forward. This is playoff hockey right now.”
Senior defenseman Brice O’Connor said the team must not play like it’s under pressure.
“We have to play with confidence and composure and believe in ourselves, believe in what we’re doing and go out and execute,” he said.
“We have to get sharper,” added O’Connor referring primarily to defensive zone mistakes that proved costly at NU. “We can’t let up for that one shift or miss a coverage. Teams will make us pay. And when we get scoring opportunities, we have to bear down because they’re few and far between.”
Sophomore center Devin Shore said it’s too late in the year to have those breakdowns.
“We fell victim to them. We have to learn from it and move forward now. We have to hammer down on our systems, our positional play and the mental aspects of them,” he said.
Maine sits in fourth place and can finish as high as second or as low as seventh.
If the Black Bears sweep Providence, they will be assured of a top-four finish, a first-round bye and the right to host a best-of-three quarterfinal series. One win or two ties in the two games will guarantee a top-five finish and a first-round bye, although they could still finish fifth and have to go on the road for a best-of-three quarterfinal series.
The top five teams will receive first-round byes in the Hockey East tournament and the top four are assured of hosting a best-of-three quarterfinal series on March 14-16.
There will be a single-game elimination round on March 7-8, with the No. 11 team traveling to play No. 6, No. 10 visiting No. 7 and No. 8 entertaining No. 9.
In the quarterfinals, the fifth-place team will visit the fourth-place finisher; the lowest surviving seed will go to league champions Boston College; the second lowest-seeded winner will visit the No. 2 finisher and the highest-seeded first-round winner will travel to play the No. 3 seed.
The semifinals and final will be at the TD Garden in Boston on March 21-22.
UMass Lowell is currently second with 23 points, Northeastern has 22, Maine has 21, New Hampshire and Providence have 20 each and Vermont and Notre Dame have 18 apiece.
The Black Bears are 12-1 at Alfond Arena this season but the Friars have a 7-3-3 road record.
However, Providence hasn’t won in Orono since Nov. 10, 2007. Maine is 5-0-2 over the last seven games at Alfond Arena.
Notre Dame has just one game left at Boston College, so the Irish can’t catch Maine and Providence, and Vermont wouldn’t be able to if Maine wins one game this weekend.
UMass Lowell visits Vermont for a pair; Northeastern plays a home-and-home with 10th-place Boston University and New Hampshire, which was idle last weekend, invades last-place Merrimack for a pair.
Excluding the empty-net goal Maine scored in a 4-2 win over New Hampshire, Maine’s last eight games have been decided by one goal or wound up in a tie (Friday’s tie at Northeastern). Maine is 4-3-1 in those games.
“This time of year, it always boils down to close games,” said O’Connor. “What we have to realize is one or two plays can make a difference in these games.”
Hutton ties defenseman mark
Maine sophomore defenseman Ben Hutton said it was a “great honor” to tie Dwight Montgomery (1979-’80), Jack Capuano (’87-’88) and Jeff Tory (’94-’95) for most goals by a Maine defenseman during a single season. He notched his 12th and 13th goals in Saturday’s loss.
He said he has tried to “bear down” when he gets a scoring chance and has been fortunate enough to convert 13 times.
“The credit goes to my teammates, too,” said Hutton who works on his shot constantly and is always trying to get it off quicker thanks to the tutelage of associate head coach Jay Leach.
“He has had an incredible year,” said Shore, his close friend and one of his housemates. “He deserves it. He is playing with a lot more confidence this year. He has always had that great wrist shot and great hands and offensive ability. Now he’s playing with confidence.”