The University of Black Bears are 0-15-1 in their last 16 men’s hockey games against the Providence College Friars and they have lost 12 in a row.
But University of New Hampshire head coach Dick Umile and Wildcats senior goalie Danny Tirone feel the Black Bears will have a shot to end that drought this weekend when they visit Providence for a best-of-three quarterfinal round series.
They will play on Friday and Saturday nights with the if-necessary game being Sunday evening at cozy Schneider Arena.
“Maine has gotten so much better and with (UMaine goalie Jeremy) Swayman playing the way he has been playing, it’s going to be a battle,” said Umile after his Wildcats were eliminated by UMaine in two games in their first round series, 4-1 and 3-2. “They are two strong, evenly matched teams.”
“It’s probably going to be a low-scoring series,” said Tirone. “It’s going to be a really good series. They are both real good teams. Anyone can win that series.”
The Friars, coached by former University of Maine and Old Town High School assistant coach Nate Leaman, earned a bye last weekend after finishing third in Hockey East.
The Friars are 20-10-4 overall and finished 13-7-4 in the conference. Sixth seed UMaine is 18-14-4 and was 10-11-3 in conference play.
Leaman said the Black Bears pose plenty of problems.
“They do a real good job getting their defensemen involved in the offense,” said Leaman, who is in his seventh season at PC and won a national title in 2014-15. “Their goaltender (freshman Jeremy Swayman) is one of the bright young stars in our league. They have a good top line (Chase Pearson between Mitch Fossier and Eduards Tralmaks). I like Tralmaks. He has a good stick and he works extremely hard. They also have depth.
“They won 18 games,” added Leaman. “They’re one of the most improved teams in the league.”
The 18 wins are the most in head coach Red Gendron’s five years at the helm and Leaman said the key to UMaine’s turnaround has been Swayman. UMaine won just 19 games, combined, the previous two seasons.
“It’s tough to win in our league without good goaltending and he has provided that for them,” said Leaman. “As an outsider looking in, they seem to have struggled in net the last three or four years and Swayman has solidified that for them.”
UMaine’s defensemen have combined for 22 goals and 54 assists.
Umile and Tirone are right. UMaine is capable of upsetting the Friars and making a run for a Hockey East championship.
This is the most mobile defense corps UMaine has had in several years and that has limited the amount of time the Black Bears have had to spend in the defensive zone.
Last weekend’s impressive performance against New Hampshire should give them confidence and momentum to take into this weekend.
The Black Bears outshot UNH 92-56 and had a decided edge in puck possession and offensive zone time. It may have been their best back-to-back outings of the season and it followed a solid showing in a regular season-ending 2-1 loss to league regular season champ Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Mass.
It was a thorough performance.
UNH had few good scoring chances and if it wasn’t for Tirone, both scores could have been lopsided.
Regaining the services of senior defenseman and co-captain Mark Hamilton after a seven-game absence due to a concussion was important because he supplies Maine with leadership, a physical presence and one of the country’s top shot blockers.
Having Nolan Vesey and Tralmaks snap out of 13-game and nine-game goal-scoring droughts is also a big plus entering this weekend because when it is playoff time, a team’s best players have to produce. And now their confidence has been restored.
Two other things separate this team from Gendron’s first four teams.
This is, by far, the deepest team he has had. Thirteen players have produced at least 10 points and seven of them notched at least 20.
And this is the best road team Gendron has coached at UMaine. The Black Bears are 9-6-1 on the road this season and the nine wins match the previous four years combined (9-50-9).
The Black Bears took Providence to overtime in Providence on Feb. 10, losing 3-2 on Scott Conway’s power-play goal with 49 seconds left.
Gendron said the two teams are “very similar.
“They play fast and they play hard,” he said. “They play well within their system.”
The statistics would bear out the similarities between the two teams although Providence is allowing nearly a goal per game less than UMaine.
Providence is surrendering 2.18 goals per game, tied for eighth best in the country while UMaine is giving up 3.00 per game (35th). However, UMaine has allowed just five goals in its last three games.
UMaine is 15th in the country in scoring at 3.11 goals per game while PC is tied for 19th at 3.09 gpg.
The power-play percentages are also similar. UMaine is operating at 17.8 percent (35th) with the man advantage while PC is 17.5 (38th).
But the Friars are one of the nation’s best penalty-killing teams at 86.6 percent efficiency while UMaine is 52nd among 60 teams at 77.5 percent.
However, UMaine has allowed just three power play goals in its last six games (3-for-18).
UMaine has four players with 10 or more goals and Providence has five. Providence has 11 players with 10 or more points compared to UMaine’s 13 and six with 20 or more versus UMaine’s seven.
Providence is a very sound, well-coached hockey team that doesn’t beat itself but UMaine has shown that it can be a similar type of team.
The other thing UMaine has going for it is the law of averages as the Black Bears are long overdue for a win over the Friars.
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