Last weekend, the University of Maine women’s ice hockey team was swept in a two-game series against the Bobcats of Quinnipiac University. This weekend, Coach Maria Lewis’ team will look to put those losses behind them when they face Hockey East rival the University of Connecticut during UMaine’s Homecoming Weekend.
The Black Bears went up against a much more experienced Quinnipiac team last weekend, and it showed, getting outshot 76-30 in the two games. Lewis, who has nine freshmen on the active roster, attributed much of that to her team’s inexperience playing at this level.
“No matter how prepared you are, you’re never really ready for that first weekend until you actually experience it,” she said. “We have a lot of players, pretty much on every line, playing in their first college hockey game. Things like that are going to happen when you have a young team.”
Despite losing 5-2 in the second game, Lewis was pleased with the progress she saw from her team in game two.
“The score may not reflect it, but I liked how we rebounded in game two,” she said. “Now our team understands what the level is.”
Although the Black Bears have enjoyed some success against the higher-ranked teams in Hockey East, their recent history with UConn has not been very good.
Lewis said her team is motivated in changing that history, starting with this weekend.
“The mood [amongst the team] has been great despite the tough weekend [against QU],” she said. “You have to start fresh against an opponent every year and game to game, but we know our history against UConn. That’s something we are committed to changing.”
Despite only being two games into a young season, Lewis did not downplay the importance of this weekend’s matchup.
“For us to accomplish our Hockey East goals, we have to take care of teams like UConn. Those are must-win for us,” she said.
“They believe they can beat us,” Lewis continued. “I expect it to be a physical game because of how hard UConn works, and I expect us not to back down.”
This weekend’s contest will be a matchup of contrasting styles. While the Huskies employ a more rigid and disciplined brand of hockey, Lewis said the Black Bears depend on more fluid gameplay, responding to what teams give them moment to moment.
“UConn is very disciplined, very hard-working,” she said. “Their roster is balanced from top to bottom, we both play a team game. I’ll be curious to see who steps up for us.”
Lewis hopes the buzz surrounding Homecoming Weekend will have a positive effect on her team heading into Saturday’s contest. When asked if playing during Homecoming would carry any added pressure, the former Rochester Institute of Technology Tiger suggested that pressure adds excitement.
“I think, if anything, it’ll just get them more excited [to play],” Lewis said. “I think it’s exciting anytime you get to play in the Alfond.”
As of Thursday afternoon, Lewis was unsure who her starting goaltender would be. Senior goaltender Brittany Ott wasn’t an option earlier this week due to a bout with mono, but has since been able to practice with the team and may be an option to start in net come Saturday afternoon.
“All three of our goalies are capable of [starting]. Obviously it’s always a tough decision, but I think that’s a good problem for us to have at this point,” Lewis said.
Goaltending will no doubt prove crucial in this series, especially if UMaine struggles on the penalty kill like they did against Quinnipiac. Whoever can control the puck more will control the game’s flow, and that will go a long way towards securing a victory.
The first interconference matchup of the year always has implications for the rest of the season, and that’s something this head coach isn’t taking lightly.
“We can rebound if it doesn’t go well,” she said, “but if we play hard and don’t come out with a W, it’ll be devastating for us.”
The Lewis-led Black Bears take the ice against the UConn Huskies on Saturday hoping for their first win of the season. The puck drops at 1pm.