After winning seven of their last eight games, including four straight, the University of Maine men’s hockey team hit the roughest patch of their schedule last weekend.
And the difficulty isn’t about to end anytime soon.
Opening last weekend’s series with a 6-2 loss at Merrimack College on Friday, the Black Bears followed that up with a 2-2 tie — one that saw a potential game-winning goal by the Black Bears in overtime disallowed.
“The play in overtime was unfortunate,” said Tim Whitehead, UMaine head coach. “We scored, but it was after the whistle. The referee was great. After he saw it on video he knew he shouldn’t have blown the whistle.”
Whitehead also admitted some of his players may have had a figurative hangover after their win over the University of New Hampshire at Fenway Park in Boston on Jan. 7.
“We were aware of that, and unfortunately that was probably part of it,” Whitehead said. “We were feeling great after Fenway and it’s just human nature to have trouble ratcheting that back up again. We were upset with the fact they couldn’t sustain that emotional level.”
Big changes were made from the first game against Merrimack to the second.
The second, third and fourth offensive lines were juggled, with junior forward Adam Shemansky and junior center Kyle Beattie relegated to the fourth line with freshman forward Andrew Cerretani.
Junior forward Matt Mangene was joined on the second line with sophomore forward Mark Anthoine and freshman center Stu Higgins. Sophomore forward Jon Swavely was joined on the third line with freshmen Connor Leen and John Parker.
Whitehead enjoyed how the shuffled lines played and said barring an issue arising in practice, they will stay that way.
“I liked the way the lineup was; I don’t see a point in juggling it again,” he said. “We may make one or two changes, but as of now, I liked Saturday’s lineup.”
After having failed to pick up a victory against the No. 6 team in the country, the Black Bears will welcome No. 3 Boston College this weekend before they travel to Beantown to face No. 2 Boston University.
“We’re looking forward to it,” Whitehead said. “We’ve been attacking the schedule in four-game blocks lately and this is game three of the four-game block. We lost the first one and then tied, so we have a chance to bring it up with these two games against BC. We’re certainly not looking any further than this weekend.”
The Black Bears lost two of three against the Eagles last season but were able to pick up a win when BC visited the Alfond Arena. UMaine lost during their lone visit to the Conte Forum this season.
While many factors go into deciding the outcome of a hockey game, the two contests with BC can be boiled down to one: special teams.
The Black Bears’ power play is one of the strongest in the nation, scoring on over 28 percent of their attempts. The Eagles are second in the nation on the penalty kill, denying opponents on over 89 percent of power plays, including six short-handed goals. The Black Bears have allowed eight short-handed goals.
Something has to give.
“It’s a factor, and special teams [are] important, but with such a strong penalty kill, we can’t count on those power-play goals,” Whitehead said. “In some respect, five-on-five play might be the key.
“They skate really well, so they pressure you,” he added. “They don’t sit back in shot-block mode. They’re aggressive. They get after it on the forecheck and in the zone. They don’t sit back; they’ll pressure the puck.”
The Eagles will rely on strong play by junior forward Chris Kreider, who leads the team with 15 goals and 11 assists for 26 points. The Eagles also employ a high-scoring defensive pair, with junior Brian Dumoulin chipping in four goals and 14 assists and senior Tommy Cross adding three goals and 11 assists.
In net, BC poses a dual threat of junior Parker Milner and freshman Brian Billett. Milner has stopped 90.5 percent of the 344 shots he has seen, while Billett has stopped a larger percentage at 91.8 percent but with less quantity, only 168 shots.
On the other bench, the Black Bears post the best front line in Hockey East: senior center Brian Flynn, senior forward Spencer Abbott and junior forward Joey Diamond are ranked one, two and three, respectively, in points in Hockey East.
Overall, Abbott is second in the country in overall points, with 12 goals and 23 assists, while Flynn is behind him in sixth, with 12 goals and 20 assists. Diamond is tied for seventh in the country with 15 goals to go along with 11 assists.
In the net, sophomore goalie Dan Sullivan settled down in the finale at Merrimack after getting benched for the third period of the 6-2 loss to the Warriors. Sullivan allowed two goals on 34 shots on Saturday.
The Black Bears open play this weekend against the Eagles on Friday at 7 p.m. and end the series Saturday at 4 p.m. Saturday’s game will be televised on NESN.