By Jeff Mannix
The University of Maine men’s ice hockey team hits the road this weekend, trying to rebound from a 6-2 loss on Saturday to St. Cloud State in Alfond Arena. But rebounding will be no easy task for the Black Bears because the team heads to North Dakota to take on the Fighting Sioux Friday and Saturday night.
North Dakota has been one of the most successful programs in the country over the past five years, winning national championships in 1997 and 2000. The Fighting Sioux lost in the national championship game to Boston College in overtime last year.
UMaine is 0-2-1 in its last three meetings with North Dakota. The Black Bears tied the Fighting Sioux 1-1 at home in its season opener last year. North Dakota followed up with a 4-2 victory, and defeated UMaine 2-0 in the national semifinal in 2000.
UMaine will be playing in North Dakota’s new Ralph Englestad Arena, which has been compared to an NHL building. The North Dakota hockey team’s weight room is the fourth largest of any hockey team’s, professional or collegiate, in the United States.
UMaine’s interim coach Tim Whitehead is upbeat about the challenge.
“North Dakota is going to be an exciting trip,” he said. “They have a great hockey team. We’ve obviously got a big challenge out there, winning two games on their rink.”
That will not be an easy task because North Dakota has played all threeof its games at home and has compiled a 2-1-0 record.
The Sioux had to replace three key losses from last season. Gone are goaltender Karl Geohring and forward Jeff Panzer to graduation, as well as forward Bryan Lundbohm to the NHL.
But North Dakota has not generally had to rebuild since Dean Blais took over the program eight years ago. The Sioux have reloaded this season with returning players and one of the best freshmen classes in the country.
The offensive leader of the team has been sophomore forward David Lundbohm, the younger brother of the departed Bryan. The younger Lundbohm has scored four times and added three assists in the team’s first three games. Junior Ryan Bayda, one of the team’s leading scorers from last season, has two goals and three assists for five points. Other key forwards for the Sioux are junior Kevin Spiewak with three points, junior Tim Skarperud with two points, junior Ryan Hale with two points and freshman Brandon Bochenski with an assist.
Senior Aaron Schneekloth is the anchor of the defense, with four assists to start the season. Senior Chad Mazurak with a goal, sophomore David Hale and freshman Matt Jones with one goal, will also be important on defense.
Senior Andy Kollar should be the netminder for North Dakota this weekend. He’s started all three games thus far, compiling a 2-1-0 record, with a goals against average of 3.20 and a .902 save percentage. Kollar split time with Geohring for the past two seasons, but now is the No. 1 goalie for the Sioux. He shut out the Colorado College Tigers in his last outing, making 29 saves.
UMaine sophomore forward Colin Shields was named the Hockey East Rookie of the Week for his three goals and one assist in action last weekend at Alfond Arena. He recorded one goal and one assist on Friday against Bowling Green and scored both UMaine goals against St. Cloud on Saturday.
UMaine will be missing two players from Friday’s game. Lucas Lawson is sitting out the game due to a mandatory suspension after being ejected from Saturday’s game for a hit-from-behind, which also carries a one- game suspension. Freshman John Ronan is expected to miss both weekend games with an injured shoulder he suffered in the St. Cloud game Saturday.
Whitehead is confident that his team would come out ready to play this weekend after the loss to St. Cloud.
“Our guys obviously want to bounce back from [the St. Cloud loss], so I’m sure they’re going to be excited,” he said.
Both games face-off at 8:35 p.m.