ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine men’s hockey team is averaging four goals per game through four games, which ties the Black Bears for third in the country in that department.
One of the reasons has been the production they have been receiving from the defensemen, including three freshman regulars in Brady Keeper, Alexis Binner and Veli-Matti Tiuraniemi.
UMaine’s defense corps has registered five goals and 12 assists. Four defensemen have scored at least one goal and junior alternate captain Rob Michel has tallied two.
“We certainly have some offensive talent on the back end,” said UMaine fifth-year head coach Red Gendron. “We had some last year but we have more now.”
UMaine’s defense corps posted 18 goals and 44 assists in 36 games a year ago.
The 2015-2016 team’s blueliners amassed 10 goals and 39 assists in 38 games and the previous two seasons’ teams each received 23 goals from their defensmen. The 2014-2015 team also had 53 assists in 39 games and the 2013-2014 team notched 55 in 35 games.
All-America defenseman Ben Hutton had 24 of the 46 goals in 2013-2014 and 2014-2015.
Gendron’s four previous UMaine teams never exceeded 2.91 goals per game or finished ranked higher than 25th among 60 Division I schools in goals per game.
Michel, who had nine goals and 10 assists in 34 games a year ago, has three assists to go with his two goals. Sophomore Patrick Holway, coming off an upper-body injury, made his season debut against Miami (Ohio) on Saturday night and had a goal and two assists; Tiuraniemi and Keeper also each have a goal and two assists and Binner and senior co-captain Mark Hamilton have an assist each.
Junior Keith Muehlbauer is the only regular yet to collect a point.
“We definitely picked up some offensive defensemen,” said Michel. “And there has definitely been an emphasis on getting shots through. That’s one thing we really strive for.”
“A couple of our freshmen are very offensive-minded, which is nice,” said sophomore center and co-captain Chase Pearson.
Hamilton said the young defensemen, “all have good shots and they do a great job getting them through. It doesn’t matter how hard the shot is, as long as you get it through (to the net). It gives our forwards a chance to make a play off a rebound or get a tip.”
Michel’s five points in four games ties him for fifth among the country’s defensemen in points per game (1.25).
“It’s a good start but I’ve got to tweak some stuff in the defensive zone,” said Michel.
The 2-2 Black Bears host NCAA runner-up Minnesota Duluth (2-2-2) on Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Follow BDN Maine Sports on Facebook for the latest in Maine high school and college sports.