The University of Maine men’s hockey team is off to a shaky start.
The youthful Black Bears’ 0-3-1 record to begin the season is the program’s worst since the 2014-15 team lost its first four games.
Ineffective defense and goaltending, along with a lack of on-ice discipline, have been key factors in the early struggles.
UMaine has allowed more goals per game (5.25) than any of the 50 Division I teams that have played a game this season. It has allowed 20 over its last three games, a whopping 6.7 per contest.
The Black Bears have been outscored 9-2 in the third period of its last three games, all losses, and are the most penalized team in the country with 20 penalty minutes per game.
UMaine is one of only five Division I teams that doesn’t have a win this season as it prepares to visit 0-4-2 Vermont for 1 p.m. games on Friday and Saturday.
“We have a lot of work to do but we’ve only played four games so we’re not ready to push the panic button,” eighth-year UMaine head coach Red Gendron said.
Yet there appears to be cause for concern.
Gendron on Monday pointedly said his players were barking at each other during the first two periods of a 9-5 loss at UMass Lowell. That was the most goals allowed in a game by a UMaine team since 1986.
“That is pretty typical when things aren’t going well and it’s not just our team. But it is something you have to eradicate right away,” he said. “Our guys really care about winning. They want to be successful. When you start to struggle, you get angry and snap at someone.”
Goaltending was expected to be a question mark after the departure of Boston Bruins signee Jeremy Swayman, who was named the top goalie in the country last season.
Sophomore Matt Thiessen, who appeared in just one game last season, and freshman Victor Ostman have struggled. They have given up several goals on initial shots that appeared as though they could have been stopped.
Thiessen turned in an outstanding, 37-save performance in a season-opening 1-1 tie with New Hampshire, but hasn’t matched that level of play in his last three appearances.
Gendron said the goalies know they have to do a better job, but in some cases have not been well supported by their teammates.
“We have to play better in our own [defensive] zone. We have to pay attention to detail. There are no shortcuts,” he said.
Gendron also acknowledged that UMaine’s penalty discipline must improve and said the team took three unnecessary penalties in the 9-5 loss at UMass Lowell that led to three power plays in the third period.
The Black Bears were without three important players for the UMass Lowell series. Senior defensemen J.D. Greenway and Cam Spicer and senior center and captain Jack Quinlivan did not play.
Gendron would not reveal why they weren’t in the lineup or whether they are scheduled to play in Vermont.
The coach downplayed the bickering on the bench and how frustration can lead to penalties, but he said the dynamic has been addressed.
“You have to control your emotions and we haven’t done a very good job of that,” Gendron said. “We have to support each other and trust each other to do the job.”
It isn’t a new problem for the Black Bears, who have ranked among the eight most penalized teams in the country the previous three years.
Gendron said UMaine is going to take some penalties because of its physical style of play, but it is the unnecessary ones that have to be eliminated.
One of the bright spots has been UMaine’s power play, which ranks second nationally with a 30 percent success rate. Senior left wing Emil Westerlund has scored three power-play goals, which ties him for eighth in the country.