ORONO, Maine — University of Maine hockey coach Red Gendron was pleased by his team’s performance over the weekend as the Black Bears opened the season by splitting a Hockey East series with the University of Connecticut.
UMaine won the opener 4-3 in overtime Friday night before dropping a 5-1 decision Saturday.
The Black Bears had 11 freshmen and sophomores among their 18 skaters for each game and freshman goalie Jeremy Swayman made his debut Saturday after junior Rob McGovern earned the win Friday night.
Three of the team’s six defensemen — Veli-Matti Tiuraniemi, Brady Keeper and Alexis Binner — were freshmen. Left wing Emil Westerlund and right wing Eduards Tralmaks, both freshmen, also made their debuts as did Brown University transfer Tim Doherty, who practiced with the team last season but couldn’t play in games due to NCAA transfer rules.
Gendron called his team’s showings “very encouraging.”
“We actually played better on Saturday than we did on Friday,” said Gendron. “It was just an eight-minute span, the last eight minutes of the first period, where we let the game get away from us. Other than that, in the first 12 minutes of the first period and in the second and third periods, we dominated the game.
“We just have to get better at the things that caused us problems.”
“We can take a lot of positives away from the weekend,” said sophomore center and co-captain Chase Pearson. “Our new players have already had a big impact.”
“(The new players) looked great. They all played hard,” added senior center and alternate captain Cedric Lacroix. “They obviously had some jitters going into the weekend but as the season progresses and they get more comfortable, they’ll really have an impact. We need all of them to help us out.”
Doherty scored a goal in Friday’s win.
“He was one of our best forwards,’ said Gendron. “What I really liked about all of our forwards was how well they possessed the puck down low (in the offensive zone). They were terrific, especially on Saturday night. And they were able to hang on to it. They had the puck most of the day.
“They just need to do a better job getting more pucks through (to the goalie) and generating more rebounds.”
Trailing 4-1 with 7:49 left in the third period Saturday, Gendron pulled Swayman in favor of an extra attacker and the Black Bears didn’t allow an empty-net goal until Karl El-Mir scored with 2:10 remaining.
“To pull the goalie and play for five-plus minutes without giving up an empty-net goal is pretty astonishing and speaks to the character we have on the team. The kids kept battling no matter what,” said Gendron, who felt the team received good goaltending performances from junior Rob McGovern and Swayman.
“We obviously wanted to get all four points (two wins) but we did have some lapses that we have to work on this week,” added senior defenseman and alternate captain Mark Hamilton. “We battled hard the entire weekend which is a plus.”
Pearson said the Bears proved to themselves that “we can compete with anyone in the league. We can be contenders and I say that with confidence.”
The Black Bears, who are idle this weekend, did lose the special-teams battle against UConn as the Huskies went 3-for-9 on the power play while UMaine was 1-for-9.
“We need to be sharper on the special teams but we’re not that far away,” said Gendron. “We had a lot of chances on the power play but we have to be that much sharper in terms of finishing off plays and recognizing what we need to do in all situations.”
“Special teams can always improve,” said Pearson. “At the end of the day, they can determine if you win or lose so we need to refine a few things. That will give us a better chance to win.”