For the University of Maine’s men’s hockey team, opposing rinks had been dens of horror.
After a 3-2 loss at the University of Massachusetts on Jan. 9, the Black Bears were the possessors of a dreadful 1-19-3 road record since the start of the 2013-14 season.
But that was the Black Bears’ last road loss.
The team rebounded from that loss with a 3-0 win the next night behind Matt Morris’ first career shutout, and the team has since gone 3-0-1 on the road for a five-game unbeaten streak.
The victory over UMass snapped a 12-game road winless streak (0-11-1) and 10-game losing skein away from Alfond Arena.
Maine swept Merrimack in North Andover, Massachusetts, this past weekend, 4-3 and 5-3 for its first wins at the Lawler Rink since Feb. 27, 2010. Maine had gone 0-5-1 in its previous six visits to Merrimack.
“I’m pretty sure I said that all it will take is for us to get that first win on the road and it will give us confidence that we could win on the road,” said junior center/right wing Steven Swavely. “We’re proving that right now. That win at UMass was big for us.”
Maine second-year head coach Red Gendron said the credit for the turnaround belongs to the players.
“They decided they had had enough,” said Gendron. “They went out and executed what they needed to execute.”
Gendron said the weekend sweep was a collaborative effort.
“There are a lot of positives on this team. They have been battling. It has been a struggle, but 19 players played minutes this past weekend and everyone contributed,” he said. “That’s how you win. Everybody was on the same page.”
Gendron said an added positive to their current road stretch is “nobody in the media talks about [the road record] now. That’s nice.”
Freshman left wing Nolan Vesey thinks the team has become more consistent on the road and at home.
“We’re more focused now. We know what we have to do, and it’s important to keep it up for the rest of the year,” he said.
Maine is 8-4-2 in its last 14 games.
Now the Black Bears will look to get back on track at home, where the team is 2-3-1 in its last six games.
And the task will be a daunting one this weekend as the team will entertain Northeastern University, which shares the country’s longest unbeaten streak at eight games with Michigan Tech and Robert Morris.
Coach Jim Madigan’s Huskies are 14-3-3 in their last 20 games after an 0-8-1 start.
Maine, 12-17-3 overall, has 16 points based on its 7-9-2 conference record and is tied for the eighth and final home ice playoff slot with the University of Connecticut. Maine has played one fewer game.
Northeastern (9-7-2 in Hockey East) is tied with Notre Dame for fifth place, four points ahead of Maine and UConn.
Vermont is in seventh place with 19 points. New Hampshire has 13 points and is in 10th place.
Vesey has memorable weekend
Jim Vesey is Merrimack’s all-time leading scorer with 240 points in 140 games.
Nolan Vesey had two assists in the 4-3 win on Friday night, including Will Merchant’s game-winner, and scored the game-winner in Saturday’s 5-3 triumph.
“I could definitely hear my family [cheering], especially after I scored on Saturday,” said Vesey, who enjoyed the experience.
“The bottom line is we got the two wins, and that’s what I really wanted,” he said.