Donavan Houle thought he lost his scoring touch.
The University of Maine sophomore right winger had scored 31 goals in 46 games for the Flin Flon Bombers of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League during the 2019-20 season and added three more goals in four playoff games.
But he didn’t score a single goal for UMaine in its 16-game 2020-21 season and went seven games without one this season.
Houle finally broke through with both UMaine goals in a 3-2 overtime loss to UConn and scored a goal in each game at Boston College last weekend before adding the game-winner in the shootout win, though goals scored in shootouts don’t count on the stats.
He now has four goals in his last five games entering Saturday’s 5 p.m. game against UMass Lowell at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland.
“Last year, I didn’t know if I would score goals again. I felt like I had lost it. It feels good to be able to do it again this year,” Houle said. “That first goal lifted a weight off my shoulders. It felt good and built my confidence. I feel like I can score in every game.”
He said the key to his success has been releasing his shot quicker. “I’ve always tried to move my feet, finish my hits and play with energy,” Houle said.
Houle’s over-stickhandling would sometimes lead to turnovers, UMaine head coach Ben Barr said.
“He is a great energy guy for us and he has been rewarded by scoring some goals,” Barr said. “His attitude is great. He works his butt off. If he keeps getting better, he is going to be a really big factor in this league.”
The 22-year-old Houle, a 6-foot, 185-pound Montreal native who had two assists a year ago, said he decided to attend UMaine after attending the Black Bears’ 2-1 overtime win over New Hampshire on Nov. 16, 2019. There were 5,012 people in attendance at the Alfond Arena that game.
“It was a great experience. The Alfond was incredible. I had some good talks with the coaches and it is close to my home,” Houle said.
Houle is one of the hardest working players on the team, senior right wing Adam Dawe said, adding that Houle deserved goals last year for the way he worked.
“It’s good to see the floodgates open. He’s buzzing now,” Dawe said.
Houle leads UMaine’s forwards in blocked shots with six. He is a hard-nosed player who finishes his checks and forces turnovers. He plays on the power play and penalty-killing units in addition to his regular shifts.
“He is in great shape which allows him to play as hard and heavy as he does,” Barr said.
Houle hopes his scoring streak continues against the River Hawks.
“Things are flowing, pucks are bouncing right for me. I’ve got to keep it going.”
The team is looking forward to playing in Portland this weekend.
“It’s always fun,” said Dawe, who is 2-0 in Portland. “It’s a different type of scenery. You don’t have as many students. It’s more fans from the community. But it’s been really good both times I’ve played there.”
The majority of the Portland games have been non-conference but this will be a Hockey East contest.
“It’s going to be really cool,” freshman center Nolan Renwick said. “It’s going to be a new experience. We’ll be able to spread the game to some new fans in Portland. There’s a lot of history there.”
UMaine is 1-9-2 overall, 1-6-1 in Hockey East, and will be taking on the No. 15 team in the country in UMass Lowell (7-2-2, 5-1-0).
“It’s going to be a great test for us. They’re a really good team and Norm Bazin is one of the best coaches in the country,” Barr said.
Lowell features Andre Lee (8 goals, 2 assists), Carl Berglund (2 & 7) and Lucas Condotta (4 & 4), along with defenseman Ben Meehan (3 & 3) and goalie Owen Savory (6-1-1, 1.24 goals-against average, .947 save percentage).
Defensemen Jakub Sirota (3 & 4) and David Breazeale (1 & 6) are UMaine’s top point-getters followed by Dawe (2 & 4) and Lynden Breen (2 & 4). Houle and Grant Hebert are the leading goal scorers with four each and Victor Ostman (1-4-1, 3.45, .886) is the likely starter in goal.