ORONO, Maine — After earning a win and tie at Vermont and then sweeping league leader New Hampshire at home last weekend, the University of Maine’s men’s hockey team has climbed into eighth in the Pairwise Rankings which emulate the NCAA Tournament seedings.
And Maine, ranked 12th in the U.S. College Hockey Online poll thanks to a current 10-2-3 stretch, has exhibited impressive balance in its ascension.
Thirteen Bears have registered at least a goal or an assist in the last four games. Two of the game-winning goals were scored by freshmen Kyle Beattie and Joey Diamond and the other belonged to junior Robby Dee in his first game back after missing four games due to a broken bone in his foot.
Even more significant is the fact Maine trailed by two goals in its 4-4 overtime tie at Vermont and its 3-2 and 6-3 wins over New Hampshire.
“It’s a good sign of growth and maturity,” said sophomore defenseman Ryan Hegarty. “We didn’t freak out or get away from the game plan [when we fell behind]. It showed a lot about what kind of team we are and what kind of team we can be in the post-season. It’s pretty vital that a team be able to come back from a two-goal deficit as well as protect a lead.”
“The last couple of weekends, everybody has been contributing,” said Maine senior right wing David deKastrozza.
“Obviously, the first two lines are going to score the most. They have the most skill,” said sophomore center Theo Andersson, who got the go-ahead goal Saturday night. “But it gives the team a good boost if the third and fourth lines get goals sometimes.”
Anderson was centering between Diamond and Kevin Swallow. Beattie is with fellow freshmen Adam Shemansky and Klaus Leidermark..
Maine is fourth in the country in goals per game with 3.73 but has just one player, sophomore right winger Gustav Nyquist (14 goals, 26 assists), who is among the nation’s top 50 point scorers. He is fourth.
Ten Bears have scored at least four goals.
“Every line has been clicking and they all have good chemistry,” said sophomore goalie Scott Darling who is 10-0-3 in his last 13 games with a 2.34 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage.
“Once guys get confidence in what their bread-and-butter is, they start trying to expand their roles and they bring more to the table,” said Hegarty.
“We’ve re-established our home ice advantage with the help of our fans,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead, whose Bears are now 9-2-1 at Alfond Arena including six straight wins. “And we’ve re-established in the players’ minds that we can come back when we’re down against really good teams.”
Maine’s special teams have played a pivotal role in their success as its power play (30.2 percent) is the best in the country and the improved penalty killing units have killed off the last 13 power plays and is 20-for-22 in the four games.
Whitehead has used members of his top line, Tanner House between Nyquist and Brian Flynn, to help the previously struggling penalty-killing units and it has paid off in the four games. He had been saving them for the power play and five-on-five situations.
UNH coach Dick Umile said, “[Whitehead] has done a tremendous job. His team plays hard, Darling has been great and they have guys who can score goals and make plays. And their power play has been a big asset.”
“Nyquist is a fantastic player and he and his linemates are a legitimate top line that makes things happen. They have good supporting players around them up front,” said Providence coach Tim Army. “Their defense is solid and the goaltending has been very good. They’re all focused on the same thing and they have good leadership.
“They’re a very good team,” added Army.
Nyquist (lower back), House (hip) and Dee (foot) didn’t practice Monday but Whitehead said they will be