ORONO, Maine — Third-year University of Maine women’s hockey coach Maria Lewis is looking forward to the second half of the season after a terrible start that includes a current eight-game losing streak and a 2-14-1 record.
It comes in the wake of a record-setting season for the Black Bears.
Lewis guided the Black Bears to a 17-11-6 record, 11-8-2 in Hockey East, last winter. The 11 Hockey East wins set a school record and the 17 overall victories tied a school record.
Maine went 3-3 against NCAA tournament teams Boston University (2-1) and Boston College (1-2), and all three losses were by one goal.
The Black Bears suffered significant graduation losses, including three of their top four scorers and two defensemen with a combined 257 career games under their belts.
But there was still a decent nucleus returning to go with a seven-member freshman class.
“I’ll take responsibility,” said Lewis, who was courted for the University of Vermont job in the offseason. “There was too much pressure on them early. We should have let them grow and develop.
“Once we were able to get the players to take a deep breath and relax, they started to realize what they were capable of and that builds their confidence,” said Lewis.
“There was a lot of pressure on us, especially coming off a huge season,” said senior defenseman and captain Chloe Tinkler. “There were high expectations.”
“A lot of the younger players were really nervous at first,” said sophomore left wing and assistant captain Jennifer More.
Twelve freshmen and sophomores have played in at least 13 games this season.
Tinkler said Lewis eventually “sat us down and told us the pressure was off. She said let’s restore the fun. Let’s just go out and play hockey with no strings attached. Don’t think about [expectations], just play.”
Tinkler said that relieved the stress.
After being swept by No. 5 Boston College 7-2 and 10-1 and being outshot 94-19 and then losing to Dartmouth 6-1 and being outshot 61-15, the Black Bears put together three solid performances in a 4-2 loss to Dartmouth and 4-3, 3-2 losses to Union College entering the holiday break.
Dartmouth needed a goal with 3:07 left to snap a 2-2 tie.
Maine outshot Union 72-34 in the two setbacks.
“Those were real good games for us,” said Lewis. “We played real well and really worked together as a team. We did a lot of good things offensively; we moved the puck well and we found each other (with passes). I was really proud of the team.
“Now we’ve got to find a way to get to the next step and win games,” added Lewis.
“The team is coming together so much better now. We’re starting to play a lot more as a team and the team chemistry has come along,” said Tinkler.
Tinkler and More both said the Black Bears have plenty of talent and the freshman class is a real good one.
“It’s just a matter of getting everyone on the same page and getting everyone to play at their best,” said More.
Every team makes the Hockey East Tournament this season, unlike previous seasons, and that is a positive for Lewis and her team.
“The big thing is we don’t have to claw and scratch to make the playoffs like we did before,” said Lewis. “We can really isolate on things we need to work on and not worry about what’s going to happen at the end of the year.
“At the end of the day, it’s not how you start the season, it’s how you finish,” said Lewis.
Senior center Brittany Dougherty, one of 27 players invited to the U.S. National team camp in April, leads the team in scoring (8 goals, 9 assists) after leading them a year ago with 16 & 17.
Freshman RW Audra Richards (5 & 4), More (3 & 5), sophomore RW Tori Pasquariello (5 & 2), sophomore center Katy Massey (2 & 3) of Waterville and junior RW Brianne Kilgour (2 & 2) follow Dougherty.
Tinkler is the top point-getter among the defensemen with three assists. She is joined on a youthful blue line by junior Kelly McDonald (0 & 1), sophomores Brittany Huneke (1 & 1) and Megan Menotti (0 & 1) and promising freshmen Kelsey MacSorley (1 & 1) and Brooklyn Langlois (0 & 1).
Senior Brittany Ott (2-8-1, 3.99 goals-against average, .902 save percentage) and sophomore Meghann Treacy (0-4, 3.84, .886) have seen most of the duty between the pipes.
Maine will return to practice Monday and will play Jan. 5-6 at Brown University.
“We hit rock bottom but we needed to go through that,” said Lewis. “Going through adversity makes you stronger.”