After losing to rival UNH 2-1 back on Nov. 17, the University of Maine women’s hockey team enjoyed their Thanksgiving by taking on the Russian National team last Thursday.
The Russians have been holding a camp in New England while playing a series of games against women’s hockey clubs around the area, including matchups against Northeastern University, Boston University, Harvard, the Boston Blades and UMaine.
Although Russia eventually took the exhibition 3-0, UMaine Head Coach Maria Lewis thought the contest could have easily tilted the other way.
“I thought we controlled most of the puck possession time,” she said. “We just didn’t get it done. We didn’t score goals. We didn’t capitalize on all the power play opportunities we had.”
Lewis said she looks forward to playing national teams again in the future, but wants her squad to improve from those matchups rather than take steps back.
“Russia’s a team we can beat. I’m hoping that players can gain some type of confidence in knowing that they can skate and be on the ice with national team players.”
With a 2-8-1 record so far, this young Black Bears team has struggled out of the gate. Lewis said they shouldn’t worry about what their record is at this point, but says her team has a tendency to be affected by their opponent’s reputation at times.
“It doesn’t matter who we play. We need to learn that we can’t be afraid of what our image of our opponent is,” Lewis said. “Hopefully they’ll just take things at face value and just go into a game knowing that we have to do what we have to do and play our best regardless of who our opponent is.”
Lewis said all three goalies — senior Kylie Smith, freshman Meghann Treacy and senior Brittany Ott — played as expected against the Russians, with each getting a period of ice time.
Although each gave up one goal, Lewis said she is leaning towards starting Ott against No. 5 Boston College in game one on Friday, if only because of her past experience against the Eagles. Ott is 2-3-1 in her last six meetings with the Hockey East rival.
BC features a potent offense highlighted by a 4.2 goals per game average, led by Alex Carpenter’s 22 points. Despite the sophomore’s performance thus far, Lewis believes the Black Bears will have to play a team game in order to compete this weekend.
The Eagles feature a deep team around Carpenter, and Lewis says it will take an outstanding effort for the Black Bears to overcome BC’s skillful style of hockey.
“Some of it’s going to depend on if they bring their A-game or their B-game,” she said. “If they bring their B-game and we bring our A-plus game, we have a great chance.
“The biggest thing, the key to winning this game is to have good gaps,” she added. “We can’t allow them to build their speed and we can’t give them any space to move the puck or else we’re going to get beat. They’re probably the fastest and most skilled team that we’ll face and we really got our work cut out for us.”
Lewis said the Black Bears will have to focus on grinding out the game in order to slow the Eagles’ attack and control the gaps on the ice.
“Every chance that our goaltender has to stop the puck, or freeze it, get a whistle,” she said. “[Get] any opportunity that we can to kind of funnel them to the outside. Any chance we get along the boards to try and create scrums and slow things down that way. We have to do those things to win.”
Although BC experienced some early season struggles — evidenced by bad losses to Boston University at home and a road loss to underdog UNH in their first three games — Lewis thinks the Eagles’ tendency to play down to their competition is behind them.
BC is 8-1-2 since their loss to the Wildcats on Oct. 21, including a 7-1 win against BU on the road and a 6-1 home victory over Providence.
Aside from a few individual rivalries amongst these two Hockey East squads, Lewis doesn’t believe BC is on the same level as a UNH or BU in terms of bitterness.
“I consider all teams in our league a rival,” Lewis said. “But we don’t have a hatred for BC. We respect BC. We know that they’re a good team. I don’t think that who’s beaten who thus far is going to be a thought in BC’s head.”
The Black Bears have been without freshman defender Brooklyn Langlois since game two of the Bemidji St. series on Nov. 10 and junior forward Brianne Kilgour since early in the first period against Providence on Nov. 2.
Langlois has recently been cleared to begin her five-day progression back after suffering a concussion against the Beavers.
Kilgour has sat out the five games since she was knocked out of the contest with the Friars because of a muscle contusion in her lower back, but has recently begun to skate with the team again.
UMaine would welcome having two of their better special teams players back on the ice, but both Langlois and Kilgour remain doubtful for this weekend’s series with the Eagles.
Despite UMaine’s rough start and BC’s No. 5 ranking, Lewis believes her team won’t be overlooked by the Eagles, saying the Black Bears are a team “that [BC doesn’t] want to lose to, but know they can lose to.
“I think they think we have great goaltending. I think they believe that we’re a feisty team that doesn’t give up. And I think they believe that we’re a team that, if they don’t play well, we can bite them,” she said.
The third-year head coach remains adamant that the win-loss column is not as important at this point in the year as executing their systems, but wants to see improvement in increasing their shot production, decreasing the number of shots their goalies face and staying out of the penalty box.
“I think our expectations honestly can’t be in the win-loss categories. It needs to be on the parts of the game that need improvement,” Lewis said. “If we come out of [Boston] with some points, that’s a byproduct of us doing other things better.”
The Black Bears travel to Boston to take on BC in a two game series that starts Friday. Puck drop for game one is scheduled for 7pm in Kelley Rink, with game two set for 2pm the next day.
UMaine returns to Alfond Arena to take on Dartmouth in a non-conference matchup Dec. 8-9.