What did the University of Maine men’s hockey team learn about itself during Saturday’s 5-1 loss to Atlantic Hockey team Bentley?
If it continues to play that way, it will validate what all the Hockey East coaches and media members felt when they voted in the two preseason polls: you’re nothing more than a last-place team.
But It’s early. It was just game three.
Bentley did post wins over Boston College, Ohio State and three-time Atlantic Hockey tournament champion American International College a year ago. But this Bentley team was picked to finish eighth among 10 teams in the worst and most underfunded conference among the six in Division I hockey.
It’s one thing to have the opposing goalie make 50 saves and you wind up losing a 3-2 heartbreaker. It’s another to lose by four goals to a team that had been outscored 13-3 in its first two games, played on Thursday night and lost to a school that was 177 miles away (Union College), and played a freshman goalie who was making his first career start.
Connor Hasley finished with 33 saves on 34 shots for the Falcons, including 15 in the third period when UMaine outshot Bentley 15-4.
After encouraging showings in a 1-0 exhibition win over the University of Prince Edward Island and a 4-1 win over Air Force and a 3-1 loss to defending national champ Denver, could the Black Bears have become overconfident after scoring first at Bentley?
No. This team cannot be overconfident given its track record.
This once-elite program hasn’t accomplished anything in 10 years.
It went from a program that produced 18 NCAA Tournament appearances between the 1986-87 and 2011-12 seasons — which included 11 Frozen Fours, five NCAA championship game appearances and two national titles — into a program that hasn’t even reached the Hockey East semifinals and NCAA tourney since 2012.
The only time UMaine had a small sniff at an NCAA berth was the 2019-20 season and that was only because they had Hobey Baker Award finalist Jeremy Swayman, who won the Mike Richter Award given to the nation’s best goalie.
The Black Bear faithful shouldn’t be pushing the panic button yet.
It was just one game, one that could serve as a valuable motivator and learning tool for the Black Bears moving forward.
The fact that all of the players showed up for the optional six-week training program over the summer shows they are committed to turning this program around, as is second-year head coach Ben Barr, who has recruited for three NCAA championship teams.
The Black Bears have 16 newcomers joining their 12 veterans, so it will take time to fully integrate them into the system.
They are going to certainly have ups and downs like any young team but the goal will be to reduce the downs as the season progresses.
They have more depth, speed and talent than they’ve had in recent memory but it doesn’t matter if the players stray from the fundamentals of their system and lack attention to detail like on Saturday night.
And the team cannot afford any performances like that during the next three two-game series, which are against nationally ranked teams Quinnipiac, currently No. 3 in the country, Northeastern (12th) and the University of Connecticut (14th).
UMaine will find itself staring at a 1-8 start if it doesn’t play up to its potential.
One starting point will be the power play, which is 0-for-9 despite returning players who scored 10 of the team’s 16 power play goals last season.
UMaine will host Quinnipiac on Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 4 p.m. The Bobcats come into the series with a 2-0-2 record after registering a 5-5 tie and 6-2 win at then No. 3-ranked University of North Dakota last weekend.