ORONO, Maine — University of Maine junior center Stu Higgins couldn’t have asked for a better debut, collecting both goals in Saturday night’s 2-1 men’s hockey win over Bentley University (Mass.).
He had missed the two losses at St. Lawrence due to a groin pull.
Higgins entered the game with just four career goals and eight assists in 75 games. It was the first two-goal game of his career and only his third multiple-point game.
The Troy, Mich., native had one goal and six assists in 36 games last season after scoring three goals and assisting on two others in 39 games last year.
He has been a tenacious, energetic presence throughout his career and was a defensive specialist who often found himself matched up with the opponents’ top scoring line. He is also a key penalty-killer.
But he is looking to become more of an offensive threat this season.
“Hopefully, that will be the case,” said Higgins. “I continued to work on my game over the summer.”
Higgins developed his shot and it showed on Saturday night as he one-timed a diagonal pass from Connor Leen past Bentley goalie Branden Komm and scored the game-winner with a snap shot from the middle of the slot off a Leen drop pass on a three-on-two.
“I think I’m a little more patient around the net now that I’m older,” said Higgins. “Hopefully, I can build off Saturday night.”
Higgins said shooting the puck more is one of his points of emphasis this season.
He had just 49 shots on goal in his 36 games last season.
“I heard [Coach Red Gendron’s] voice in the back of my head telling me to shoot the puck [on the second goal]. He always talks to us about shooting more. We only scored 77 goals last year,” said Higgins. “So I took his advice tonight.”
But Gendron isn’t the only one who harps on shooting more.
“My parents [Brian and Clarice Higgins] are always telling me to shoot more,” a smiling Higgins said.
“It was a great way for him to come back into the lineup,” said senior goalie Martin Ouellette.
Gendron said Higgins had a great night.
“He scored some goals and he played his tail off. His whole line played well,” said Gendron referring to junior left wing Leen (two assists) and senior right wing Jon Swavely (one assist).
That line was a combined plus-six in plus-minus as each player was plus-two. Players earn a plus-one if they’re on the ice for an even-strength or shorthanded goal and a minus-one if the other team scores one.
They combined for nine shots on goal.
Gendron said the only blemish on Higgins’ outing was a retaliation penalty.
“He got too excited and punched a kid in the face. That’s the kind of stuff we have to eliminate,” said Gendron.
“It was a stupid one,” admitted Higgins, who noted that Maine took too many penalties (7) and will address that issue.
Maine special teams varied
Maine’s special teams have been at opposite ends of the spectrum.
The power play is a dismal 1-for-16 and generated just seven shots on goal in seven attempts on Saturday night. That included a two-man advantage that spanned 1:29.
But the penalty killing has been exceptional, allowing just one power-play goal in 14 attempts.
Maine’s penalty killers held Bentley 0-for-7 and that included two two-man disadvantages.
“We’ve got to play better on the power play and we’ve got to help them play better,” said Gendron.
“We have to get better offensively. We had 20 shots [in the first period] and scored only one goal,” said Gendron.
Maine’s penalty-killers will be tested this weekend when 2-2 UMass comes to Orono for a pair of nonconference games.
UMass is tied for second in the country on the power play at 32 percent (8-for-25). The Minutemen are coming off a home sweep of Michigan State 3-1, 5-2.
The game times are 8 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., respectively.
Maine and UMass will play two Hockey East games the following weekend in Amherst, Mass.