Donavan Houle didn’t get off to the start he wanted this season.
The University of Maine junior right wing, who led the Black Bears with 10 goals a year ago, scored just two goals through his first 11 games.
But he’s scored a goal in each of his last three games, including the game-winners in the 3-1 and 5-1 wins at Vermont last weekend. He was named the Hockey East Co-Player of the Week and now has five goals and three assists — and his five goals is second only to Lynden Breen’s six.
Houle said he had been frustrated by his start but that he tries not to think about it.
“I’m just trying to put pucks on the net. When you do that, good things happen.”
The Montreal native has been on a line with freshman center Killian Kiecker-Olson and junior left wing Mike Mancinelli for the past three games, who have combined for three goals and six assists. Mancinell, an Arizona State transfer, has four assists in the last three games and Kiecker-Olson has a pair as well.
“It feels good. We have good chemistry. We all work together well,” Houle said.
His scoring outburst comes after two forgettable games at Merrimack in which he had one assist.
“He had a really rough weekend at Merrimack. And he would be the first one to tell you he did,” said UMaine head coach Ben Barr, who added that Houle needs to keep the game simple and get to the net.
“When he starts going backwards and stickhandling too much, that’s not his game,” Barr added. “He can shoot the puck and can beat a goalie clean like he did last weekend. He has to get those kinds of chances.”
Kiecker-Olson said that Houle can “rip the puck” and that it’s been fun playing on a line with him the last three games.
“I think our line, as a whole, has done a really good job these last three games and he’s gotten rewarded because of it,” Kiecker-Olson said. “He’s looking really good. I hope we can keep it going.”
Houle has worked on his shot and feels it has improved. He is also looking to release it quicker so the goalie doesn’t have time to get set.
“I shoot to score but I always try to put it on net. I don’t miss the net as much as I used to,” he said.
He wants to become a more complete player.
“I’ve been focusing on the little details. Being on the right side of the puck, defensively, and finishing checks as much as I can. Things have been going good. I haven’t been getting scored upon as much. I have a better plus-minus than last year,” he said.
He is plus-2 in plus-minus after being minus-1 last season and minus-4 in the abbreviated 2020-21 campaign. Players receive a plus-1 if they are on the ice when their team scores an even-strength or shorthanded goal and a minus-1 if the opponent scores one.
The 6-foot, 196-pound Houle has had a penchant for scoring important goals.
Of his 15 career goals, four have been game-winners and two others have tied games.
“He is getting rewarded for his hard work,” said UMaine captain and defenseman Jakub Sirota. “He has always been a great shooter. At the beginning of the season, he wasn’t getting himself in position to shoot it. Now he’s getting it done.”
Barr called Houle an important piece of the team.
“He is a strong kid. We’re a better team when he’s playing well and he has played much better the last three games,” Barr said.
Houle has good speed and is physical. He plays with a lot of energy.
“I had to become physical and get more energy in my game if I was going to get into the lineup in juniors and it stuck with me,” said the 23-year-old Houle, who played three seasons for the Flin Flon Bombers in the Saskatechewan Junior Hockey League.
He racked up 56 goals and 78 assists for 134 points in 155 regular season games for Flin Flon and added 10 and 10 in 20 playoff games. He had 31 and 36 in 46 regular season games in his final season.
Houle said this team is better than last year’s team, which finished 7-22-4 overall. The current team is 5-8-1 thanks to its three-game winning streak.
“You can see the difference in the way we play. It’s not only the players, the culture is moving forward. We put the emphasis on ourselves to have the work ethic and attitude. We never get outworked. That’s the beauty of our team,” he said.
UMaine is 2-5-1 in Hockey East but has played six of the eight games on the road. The Black Bears will play 10 of their final 16 league games at home.
“We traveled a lot in the first half. Having our fans behind us and playing at home is great. It’s not something we take for granted,” said Houle, whose Black Bears will host 5-10-2 Canisius of Buffalo, New York, and Atlantic Hockey in a non-conference game at 2 p.m. Saturday.