University of Maine sophomore center Devin Shore has been the Black Bears’ offensive catalyst and leading scorer this season.
He has had 10 multiple-point games, and the Black Bears are 8-1-1 in those games.
Shore and the sixth-seeded Black Bears will try to extend their season at 7 p.m. Saturday, when they entertain No. 11 Merrimack College in a single-elimination Hockey East first-round game.
If Maine wins, it will visit Providence for a best-of-three quarterfinal series next weekend, while Merrimack would invade Boston College if it triumphs.
Both teams struggled down the stretch.
Maine, 15-13-4 overall and 9-8-3 in Hockey East, but squandered a glorious opportunity to earn a top four seed, a first-round bye and the right to host a quarterfinal series by going 0-3-1 in its last four games, including 4-2, 3-2 home losses to Providence College last weekend.
Merrimack, 8-21-3, 3-15-2, went 1-8 in its last eight games, although the win was a 4-2 triumph over New Hampshire last Friday night and was followed by a 5-2 loss on Saturday in which Merrimack outshot UNH 51-21.
Shore said knowing the team went 8-1-1 in his multiple-point games gives him some satisfaction, but he added that his prime concern is winning.
“It’s good to be able to contribute that way. You want to be the guy your teammates look for when the going gets tough,” he said. “But if you put your head on your pillow the night before a game thinking you need to get at least two points, it’s not going to happen, and you’re probably not going to win.
“You have to trust in the game plan, trust in your teammates, bring the compete level and get hungry around the net. If you do that, usually that stuff takes care of itself,” he added.
Shore enters the game with 40 points on 13 goals and 27 assists. He is tied for 11th in the country in scoring and in points per game (1.25). He is ninth in assists per game (0.84) and is tied for fourth in shorthanded goals with three.
“He’s a great player,” said Merrimack College senior defenseman Jordan Heywood. “We’re going to have to play physical against him and limit his time and space with the puck. We can’t let him play his game.”
Maine coach Red Gendron said it isn’t just Shore that will have to play well, “everyone has to do his job. Individuals who haven’t scored much in the past will have an opportunity to step up and help us.”
Heywood said his team is going to have to play its best to win.
“We have to play tight-checking, physical hockey and limit their skill players’ second- and third-chance opportunities,” added Heywood, whose Warriors took Maine to three games before losing in the quarterfinals in Orono two years ago. In 2010-11, the Warriors swept Maine in the quarters in North Andover, Mass.
He said the large and boisterous crowds in Orono make it “fun to play up there. And the dimensions of the ice are very similar to ours. It has been a disappointing season, but we’re starting to play up to our potential.”
Shore said the two teams play a different style “but both rely on hard work and intensity and on finishing checks. That’s what playoffs are all about. Merrimack is going to make us earn every bit of ice, and we’re going to try to do the same thing to them and try to push the pace and tempo.”
The Bears haven’t had a lead in its last three games, and they can’t afford another sluggish start.
“Getting a lead will be important. Scoring a goal early could get things going,” said Maine freshman center Cam Brown.
Besides Shore, Maine has also been led by Ben Hutton (13 goals, 13 assists), the nation’s top goal-scoring defenseman; LW Connor Leen (6-17), Brown (4-15), LW Mark Anthoine (8-11) and RW Ryan Lomberg (11-7). Gendron said his goaltending choice will be a gametime decision between slumping Martin Ouellette (14-13-4, 2.29 goals-against average, .925 save percentage) or Dan Sullivan (1-0, 1.97, .917).
Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy, who feels his team has to establish its forecheck, also hasn’t decided on a goalie between Rasmus Tirronen (7-13-3, 2.61, .904) and Sam Marotta (1-8, 3.16, .870). The Warriors feature LW Mike Collins (12-13), RW Quinn Gould (7-7), centers Brian Christie (5-9) and Vinny Scotti (5-7), and defensemen Brendan Ellis (0-10) and Heywood (0-9).
There are 1,500 tickets still available for the game, according to sports information director Laura Reed, and they can be obtained online at GoBlackBearsTickets.com. They will also be on sale one hour before the game.
Merrimack is bringing three busloads of fans and its band.