ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine men’s hockey team has built some momentum with three wins in its last four games after an eight-game losing streak.
But if the 6-14-1 Black Bears are going to continue that trend, the team will have to do so on a rink that is 10 feet wider than its Alfond Arena when the Black Bears visit the Mullins Center to take on the 5-14 University of Massachusetts on Friday and Saturday night.
The two games are nonconference games since they have already played their two Hockey East games. Maine triumphed 6-5 in overtime on Halloween and 3-2 on Nov. 1 at Alfond Arena.
In order to prepare for the wider ice surface, the team practiced at the University of Southern Maine’s Olympic-sized ice sheet (200-by-100) on Thursday.
The Mullins Center is 200-by-95, while Alfond Arena is 200-by-85. Maine will play on another 200-by-100 sheet on Jan. 24 when it visits the University of New Hampshire’s Whittemore Center.
“Practicing at USM will be a big help,” said Maine senior left wing Connor Leen. “We’re used to playing at Alfond and other rinks which are a bit tighter and the corners are a bit shallower.”
The Maine players said they will have to make adjustments playing on the wider ice sheet, but it won’t alter their style of play.
“We’re still going to be an in-your-face, aggressive team. But we’re going to have to be a little smarter. We’re going to have to know when to pursue someone and we can’t over-pursue,” said sophomore center Cam Brown. “If you get pushed outside the [faceoff] dots or you pressure too much outside the dots, it’s harder to recover and get back into position because there’s more space.”
“Parts of the game are different systematically. You have to keep moving. And you don’t want to overcommit,” said Maine junior center and captain Devin Shore.
“But a lot of things carry over like work ethic and driving the net. There’s a bunch of intangibles that are in play regardless of the size of the rink.”
Junior defenseman Ben Hutton said it is important for defensemen to stay between the faceoff dots when the opponents are rushing the puck.
“You don’t want to get too spread out from your partner,” said Hutton referring to the fact that it would leave too much open space down the middle of the ice.
The players also noted that you have to play more conservatively on the penalty kill and stay centralized while, on the power play, you have more time and space with the puck.
The players said the wider sheet adds a fun element to the game.
“It’s always fun when you have more room and more time to make plays,” said Leen. “You can wheel around a little bit more.”
“There’s more room behind the net and everything so I think a forward would enjoy it more. I do,” said Brown.
Maine freshman goalie Sean Romeo is used to playing on Olympic-sized sheets from his days growing up in North Carolina.
“It’s still the same angles and stuff,” said Romeo. “Maybe you have to move a little bit further left and right since the puck goes out wider, but it isn’t a big difference. There is more time and space for the players so they can sometimes get better chances.”
He likes the fact there is more room behind the net, “so I can make plays to my defense and not bump into them.”
Maine has held opponents to four goals combined in its three recent wins and they feel it’s important to continue to play well defensively.
“We’ve been paying attention to the small details in the defensive zone and trying to clean up our game and that is paying dividends,” said senior defenseman and alternate captain Jake Rutt.
“And Sean Romeo has been playing great. He has been our backbone,” said Brown.