ORONO — Nobody with the University of Maine men’s ice hockey team is enjoying this off week much.
After a disappointing split in Hockey East play against UMass-Lowell last weekend, the Black Bears are off this weekend before heading back into league play with a pair of games at Boston University on Nov. 16-17. There’s little doubt what Maine will be working on after the River Hawks grabbed a 1-0 win Saturday night in a lackluster performance from the home team.
“Our team’s not happy,” said sophomore goalie Jeremy Swayman, who made a season-high 44 saves in the loss. “We’re going to use that going into this off weekend to work on the things we need to work on and be ready for BU in two weeks. The main thing is sticking to our identity of playing hard in both the D-zone and offensive zone, getting gritty in front of the net and not taking penalties.”
It’s the last item in Swayman’s laundry list that is of the most concern.
Maine (3-4-1 overall, 1-2-1 Hockey East) has won just once in its last six games since a season-opening two-game sweep of St. Lawrence. The Black Bears are the most penalized team in the nation with 159 minutes, ranking second in NCAA Division I with 19.9 PIM per game.
“The bottom line is, we need to be better than this. That’s just how it is,” Maine head coach Red Gendron said.
Against UMass-Lowell, the Black Bears were good on the Friday night opener after a week of addressing the team’s on-ice discipline issues. They weren’t whistled for any infractions until midway through the second period, allowing them to overcome an early two-goal deficit en route to a 4-3 win.
Saturday was a different story entirely.
The River Hawks went on the power play four times in the opening period alone, and another three times in the second period. By the time they took a one-goal lead early in the third, any hope Maine had of creating momentum was long gone.
“Eventually it has to come from within,” Gendron said. “It’s the players in the locker room. They have to have enough. They have to get their minds in the right place. We work hard to help them learn how to do that, and then they have to do it.
“That being said, this is on me. I’m the head coach here. Something doesn’t go right, it all comes back to me. But I was pretty angry with the penalties (Saturday night).”
Maine’s penalty kill enjoyed a perfect 10-for-10 weekend, including 7 of 7 on Saturday. The Black Bears rank 11th in the nation at 87.8 percent effectiveness while killing penalties, after ranking 53rd out of the 60 Division I teams last winter.
That’s of little solace to Maine these days.
“Penalty kill had a good night (Saturday), but when you’re killing that many penalties, it’s hard to generate offense. It’s tough,” Maine senior defenseman Rob Michel said. “(It’s) a good week for us to recoup and focus on our discipline issue, for sure. If we continue to trust our process, I think that will be good.”
With the split, Maine failed to remain unbeaten at home and move above .500 in Hockey East play. The shutout also spoiled Swayman’s best goaltending effort of the season, his second 40-save game of the young campaign.
“We’re definitely not happy,” Michel said. “We like our team and how close we are, it’s just sticking to what we’re doing. It’s a learning process, for sure. I think we’ve learned you can’t take any team lightly, especially in Hockey East.”
Orono, Maine—10-12-2018–UMaine defenseman Sam Becker (23) slips and falls in front of the net as St. Lawrence’s David Jankowski, left, and Carson Dimoff, center, attempt to score on UMaine goalie Jeremy Swayman during first period action at Alfond Arena in Orono on Friday.
Kevin Bennett Photo