ORONO, Maine — There are high expectations for the University of Maine men’s hockey team this season.
After a dramatic turnaround last season that saw them go 10-11-3 in Hockey East after back-to-back 5-15-2 seasons, the Black Bears (18-16-4 overall) were picked to finish fifth in the 11-team league in the preseason poll.
They hadn’t been picked to finish higher than ninth in the five previous seasons.
UMaine could still finish in the top five, since it has played only six league games (2-3-1) going into a two-game Hockey East weekend set at Vermont. But something needs to change if that is to happen.
UMaine (4-7-1 overall) is 2-7-1 in its last 10 games and has scored only 19 goals during that stretch, including an empty-netter.
Four of those games were against two of the nation’s top defensive teams as the Black Bears were swept at home last weekend by No. 9 Quinnipiac, which ranks fourth in the country in goals-against average (1.85 per game) and were swept by No. 2 Minnesota Duluth (tied for sixth, 2.00 gpg) earlier this season.
“We really have to focus on our offensive game,” junior center Chase Pearson said. “We’re good defensively when we want to be. But we have to bring it every night and be consistent.”
Despite returning 10 of its 12 point producers from last season, the underachieving Black Bears are 49th among 60 Division I schools in scoring (2.17 gpg).
The power play ranks 54th at a dismal 12.3 percent and it is mired in a 2-for-20 drought. The power play operated at a 19.5 percent success rate last winter.
UMaine has scored more than one power-play goal in a game just once this season.
“We’re working real hard to generate more offense of the dirty [in front of the net] variety,” head coach Red Gendron said.
“Our guys have to play with more confidence and poise on the offensive side of things,” he added.
Over the last 10 games, co-captain Pearson (6 goals), junior center Tim Doherty (4) and freshman right wing Jacob Schmidt-Svejstrup (2) are the only Black Bears with more than one goal.
Pearson has eight goals, one more than all of last year, and Doherty is next with five (11 last season). Of the five players with 10 or more goals during 2017-2018, senior right wing Brendan Robbins, junior left wing Mitch Fossier and sophomore left wing Eduards Tralmaks are struggling.
Fossier, who posted a team-high 12 goals and 22 assists last season, has scored only once this season and has just two in his last 19 games dating back to last season. He has registered a team-leading eight assists.
Robbins (11 goals, 10 assists) has yet to register a point in 12 games this season and has gone 15 games without a point with one goal over his last 22 games.
Tralmaks (11 goals, 14 assists) has a goal and four assists but has scored only three time over his last 24 games.
One of the key factors in UMaine’s offensive woes has been its shooting inaccuracy. The Black Bears missed the net 29 times in the Quinnipiac series.
“That’s something that can’t happen,” Pearson said. “Hitting the net is an easy thing to do. When we miss the net, we miss an opportunity to score.”
“College hockey is a hard game and you aren’t going to get flashy goals,” senior defenseman and co-captain Rob Michel said.
Pearson said he believes the Black Bears are capable of stringing together a long, successful run toward the tournament.
“We can’t get frustrated with ourselves,” sophomore defenseman Brady Keeper said. “We’ve got to keep grinding and pushing and keep shooting the puck.”
After the Vermont series, UMaine will play 10 of its last 16 league games at home.
“We’ve been doing a lot of good things but it isn’t showing up in the results,” Michel said.
UMaine will be hard-pressed to score goals this week at Vermont, which is allowing only 2.2 goals per game. However, the Catamounts have had even more trouble scoring, averaging 2.1 goals, tied for 50th in Division I.
“We have enough talent in the room to be really good this year,” Pearson said. “We’ve got to figure it out and really push our offensive tendencies.”