ORONO — The importance of faceoffs was showcased in the University of Maine’s 3-2 men’s hockey overtime win over Vermont on Saturday night.
Maine’s second and third goals came directly off faceoffs.
The Black Bears have won 55.1 percent of their faceoffs this year thanks to senior centers Robby Dee and Tanner House.
Dee has won 63 percent of his faceoffs and House has won 58.1 percent of his. The other two centers, sophomores Klas Leidermark and Matt Mangene are at 50 and 42.9 percent, respectively.
“Robby and Tanner have been elite faceoff guys for us,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead, who noted they are on the ice in all situations and their faceoff wins are particularly important on the power play and the penalty kill.
“Faceoffs are huge. You saw that in the Vermont game,” said House, the Bears’ captain. “They’re pretty big for possession and you can score off them sometimes, too.”
Dee added, “They’re really important because they decide who is going to get possession of the puck in that particular time period. The more faceoffs you win, the more time possession you have.”
Faceoff strategies vary.
“Every guy has his own little thing they do,” said Dee. “For me, it’s figuring out what the other guy is going to do and beating him to the puck. I try to be quicker than he is. I try to get there a little earlier than he does.”
“The big thing is timing and reading the other centerman,” said House. “I look at a lot of different things. I mostly see what the other center is going to do. I see where he has his stick and try to counteract it. Robby and I know what usually works for us against certain guys and we try to stick with that.”
House also said his wingers have played important roles.
“The wingers come in and help you out,” House said. “Most of those are 50-50 pucks. There’s a battle in the middle. Gustav (Nyquist) and (Spencer) Abbott did a real good job Saturday just coming in and whacking them back for me. Half the time it’s your wingers coming in.”
House won 14 of his 18 faceoffs against Vermont and Dee won 19 of 24.
House said they have all benefited from the expertise of associate head coach Bob Corkum, who earned the reputation as one of the NHL’s best faceoff men during his 720-game NHL career.
“We always work on them,” said House.
“We talk about faceoffs all the time. Robby times (the drop) it well. He has good quick hands and good hand-eye coordination,” said Corkum. “Tanner is more physical, he’s either whacking the other center’s stick or tying up the center’s stick and turning around and kicking the puck (to a teammate). Or he’ll push it to the wall.”
In addition to faceoffs, both players are off to good starts offensively.
Each has five goals in Maine’s seven games to tie for second on the team behind Abbott, who has six.
Dee also has six assists and House has three.
“It’s just (been a matter of) getting to the net and being in the right place at the right time,” said Dee. “Every day I’ve been working in practice to get better. I’ve been doing what I can and I’ve been trying to stay healthy.”
“I just try to get in those right spots,” said House. “It’s pretty easy playing with Gustav. And (Abbott) is off to a really hot start, too. (Abbott) seems to be finding the net pretty good as well. I’m happy with my start but I’ve got to keep it going.”
Cornell puts best skate forward
Sophomore defenseman Mike Cornell made his Black Bear debut as a right winger against Vermont and he also saw some duty on defense, particularly on the penalty-kill. Maine was without injured wingers Theo Andersson and Carlos Amestoy.
“It was good fun,” said Cornell, who hadn’t played wing “since a little experiment in my first year of high school.”
“It was nice to get back in the lineup and to try to help out in any way I could,” added Cornell, who was a healthy scratch for the North Dakota series.
He said the biggest adjustment was in the defensive zone.
“I’m used to following the puck and playing man-on-man (as a defenseman),” said Cornell. “A few times, I caught myself staring at the puck a little bit. But both (linemates) Klas (Leidermark) and Mark (Anthoine) were great. They helped me out with it.”
Cornell said it was enjoyable to initiate contact as a forward.
“It was nice to pay some guys back. I’m always getting crushed behind the play (as a defenseman) so to get in there and hit some guys was fun,” said Cornell.
“He was one of our most consistent hitters along with Anthoine,” said Whitehead, who was impressed with Cornell. “He was a good physical presence.”
“He did a really good job,” said House. “He’s a hard worker and he kept things simple. We got exactly what we needed out of him. And when Jeff (Dimmen) lost an edge (on his skate), we threw (Cornell) back on defense and he killed some penalties. It’s nice to have versatility.”