ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine men’s hockey team has played some of its best hockey against the nation’s best and most prolific scoring teams this season.
The Black Bears went 2-1 against a No. 4 Boston College team that is second in the country in scoring, averaging 3.54 goals per game. They also went 2-1 against No. 14 UMass Lowell, which is 23rd among 59 teams (2.96 gpg).
UMaine faces another potent team this weekend when it entertains No. 13 Boston University in a Hockey East series Friday (7:35) and Saturday (7) nights.
BU has scored three goals per game, which is tied for 20th.
Maine enters the game with an 8-15-5 record, 4-10-5 in Hockey East. BU is 13-12-1 and 10-7-1, respectively.
The Alfond Arena has been kind to the Terriers in recent years, as BU is 7-1-2 in its last 10 games in Orono.
“BU is very talented and well-coached and they are used to playing in this type of atmosphere,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “Both arenas have a loud student fan base.”
“We’ve been opportunistic, received good goaltending and gotten a little bit of luck up there,” said BU coach Jack Parker about his team’s recent success at Alfond Arena.
BU, like BC and UMass Lowell, likes to play an aggressive, uptempo style of hockey and Whitehead said that is the style they prefer to play.
He explained it is a style that is conducive to “player development” and the players enjoy it.
“We just don’t have the [offensive] numbers to show for it but we will down the road,” said Whitehead, whose team is averaging just 1.71 goals per game, which is 58th nationally among 59 teams.
Parker said his team needs to address its recent defensive funk, in which it has allowed 4.29 goals per game over its last seven (1-5-1).
He said the fact Maine has had problems scoring doesn’t mean anything this weekend.
“We’ve given up 13 goals in two games against Harvard,” pointed out Parker.
Harvard is 54th in the country in goals scored with 2.17 per game.
“We aren’t playing well right now. It hasn’t been the goaltending. Instead of puck-watching, we need to be covering people,” said Parker, whose Terriers blanked Maine 1-0 on Dec. 8.
“That was a great game and we’ve had decades of great games against them,” said Parker.
The Maine players know they will have their hands full but said they are aware they have been able to produce good performances against quality teams.
“We might prepare a little better when we’re playing a highly ranked team that can score a lot of goals,” said junior goalie Martin Ouellette.
“Obviously it’s a good thing and a bad thing,” said Maine senior defenseman and tri-captain Mike Cornell. “Maybe, as a team, we prepare differently [for better teams]. This week, it’s a good thing.”
Cornell said fast, uptempo teams resemble “our team identity” more than big, physical teams like Merrimack and Vermont. Maine went 0-4-2 against those two teams.
“Our team is more about speed. We have some smaller guys. We like playing those games,” said Cornell. “Those guys like to play [scoring] chance-for-chance so we’ve got to play strong defense and try to beat them in transition.
“As long as I’ve been here, we’ve always liked playing BU. There are no surprises. You know it’s going to be a hard-fought game and you’re going to have to earn your points,” added Cornell. “They’ve been struggling lately and we’ve had a rocky season so each team is going to battle hard.”
Ouellette said he knows BU will be a big test for him.
“They get a lot chances off the rush and they have a good power play. They have a lot of skilled guys up front,” said Ouellette. “And they have offensive-minded defensemen. We’re going to have to watch for trailers and back-door passes.”