As we start the second half of the school year, the University of Maine men’s ice hockey team is starting the second half of their season. At the moment, the Black Bears sit ninth in the 11-team Hockey East conference standings with only two regulation wins in ten games. UMaine is on a 3 three-game losing streak currently after Boston University swept them in last weekend’s series at Boston.
So why are the Black Bears struggling after having such a good year last year? There may be a few key factors as to why.
First and foremost, the Black Bears lost arguably their best goalie in program history, Jeremy Swayman. After Swayman’s third year, he decided to forego his senior season and turn professional for the Boston Bruins organization. Swayman finished in the final three for the Hobey Baker award, College Hockey’s MVP award and won Hockey East Player of the Year last season. This year the goaltending has been inconsistent compared to last year, and without a clear No. 1, UMaine’s save percentages have fallen from being a top 10 team in the country to a bottom 10 team this year.
Another issue that the Black Bears have going against them is the fact that they have yet to play a home game this season. The UMaine faculty has decided against hosting games so far this season in an attempt to reduce the risk of COVID-19 being brought to campus. This is a respectable and responsible decision, but one that isn’t good for on-ice results. The Black Bears have been doing a lot of traveling and have not had the benefit of playing in their home rink. The Alfond Arena was a fortress last year and the Black Bears went 12-2-2 at home last year. On the road last year they went 5-10-2, which is not too far off from the quality of record they have on the road this year which is 2-7-1. So, when looking back on this season we should cut them a little slack with the position that the pandemic put them in.
The last major reason UMaine has been underperforming this year is due to the fact that they lost some key seniors. The Black Bears lost their two leading scorers, Mitchell Fossier and Tim Doherty. Both players ranked top 20 in the country in scoring last year, and top 20 point players are not easy to reproduce. Losing two at once was an enormous loss for the Black Bears. Currently, the team’s leading scorers are third-year forward Adam Dawe, third-year forward Jacob Schmidt-Svejstrup and fourth-year forward Eduards Tralmaks, all having 9 nine points in 10 games this season. Dawe and Schmidt-Svejstrup have been pleasant surprises with their point totals almost being around a point per game. Sadly these two former depth players had to fill the roles left by Fossier and Doherty, which pulled them away from their own talents this season.
Going forward the Black Bears do not have a set schedule. The Eastern Hockey League is making the schedule up as they go from this point in an attempt to have all the teams play a similar amount of games come the end of the season. This means teams like Boston who have played very few games will have a loaded second half schedule, while a team like the University of Massachusetts Amherst will play fewer games than most due to the high total of games they have already played. Currently, there is no set schedule for the rest of UMaine’s season. The schedule for each week will be announced on Tuesdays the week of the games, so teams will only find out their opponents days before the games.
The likelihood of UMaine hosting home games remains slim, which means they will have to continue playing all their games on the road, leaving the Black Bears with an uphill battle to make the playoffs in Hockey East this year. Even though they have the same point total as the eighth place team in the conference, which is the last playoff spot, the Black Bears must work hard to maintain their spot. This season will see fans keeping a close eye on the progress of players like first-year foward Lyden Breen, Adam Dawe and second-year forward Ben Poisson with the hopes that their development will lead to success as a team next year.