The University of Maine women’s hockey team hopes to build off of their win on Sunday as they prepare for two of the best teams Hockey East has to offer: No. 3 Boston University and No. 7 Northeastern University.
The physical play from Saturday’s matchup against the University of Connecticut carried over into Sunday’s game, something UMaine head coach Maria Lewis thought was a by-product of her players sticking up for one another as well as the scrappy nature of both clubs.
Senior goaltender Brittany Ott, who had been unable to practice with the team at the beginning of last week due to a bought with mononucleosis, started in net for the Black Bears on Sunday and earned the win.
When asked what kind of impact that had on her team’s performance, Lewis couldn’t discredit it.
“It was huge,” she said. “We’re off to a slow start at 0-3 — and I don’t think it was the goaltenders’ fault that we were 0-3 — but sometimes when you get your stalwart in net backing [your team] up, it’s just that spark that a team needs.
“We were a little worried about how her energy was going to be throughout the whole game, but she looked good the whole time and she felt good so we kept her in there,” Lewis continued. “I thought she did fantastic for her first game back.”
Although getting a win against UConn was an important step for the Black Bears, Lewis knows they have their work cut out for them this weekend when they face off against the Terriers and Huskies on the road on back-to-back days.
“It felt good to get the win,” she said. “The players were happy about it but we also understand we have two really tough opponents coming up and we have to make sure we stay grounded and keep marching forward.”
Lewis plans to use male scout players in practice this week to try and emulate the skill and speed that BU and Northeastern will no doubt employ in this weekend’s games.
“The problem with BU is they’ve got so many great players,” she said. “If you isolate one, they come back with another — it’s like one right after the other. They’ve got too many great players so you have to strategically do it as a whole.
“If we can get the guys out on the ice putting a lot of pressure on us in practice so that our players can get adjusted to that level before the game, it’ll at least give ourselves a fighting chance,” Lewis added.
The scout players won’t be used to mimic specific players on BU or Northeastern. Instead, Lewis hopes they can act as “five really good opponents that we need to be able to compete against.”
The Terriers and Huskies play an up-tempo brand of hockey, something that contrasts sharply with UConn’s style of play. The Black Bears will also have to adjust to playing two different squads in a very short time frame.
“We have to wipe the slate clean,” Lewis said. “[BU and Northeastern] play a little less of a team game and a little more of an individual game, whereas I think UConn has to play a team game to win.
“The tough thing is preparing for two different opponents on a weekend, it’s not something that we typically do,” she added. “I know in the past we usually just prepared for game one and then worried about game two after it was over. I think this time around we’re just going to focus on what we need to do and try to apply it to both games and hope for the best.”
Although the Black Bears will have to transition quickly from BU to Northeastern, Lewis hopes the changeover helps her team more than it hurts.
“We go right into the game against Northeastern without any skating on their ice, so there isn’t much time to prepare,” she said. “I think maybe for some kids, maybe that’s a blessing in disguise where they don’t have to think too much and they can just go play.”
Lewis leads a young team into Boston to take on the No. 3 and No. 7 ranked teams in women’s college hockey, something that many of her nine freshmen have yet to experience at this level. The third-year head coach hopes her players can remain composed as they face their biggest challenge of the season so far.
“At the end of the day, they all have to find a way to play,” she said.
“I think the one thing about the freshmen right now is they’re still learning how to have game weekend routines,” Lewis continued. “They’re still learning how that works at this level. I don’t think it’s going to throw them off because I don’t necessarily think that they got all that figured out and set. They don’t have their superstitions yet. I don’t think it will affect them as much as maybe some of the upperclassmen who really like their routine and want things done a certain way.”
UMaine takes the ice against Boston University Friday night hoping to improve on their 1-3 record. Puck drop is scheduled for 7pm. The Black Bears conclude their road trip when they take on Northeastern University at 2pm the following day.