It has been a topsy-turvy year for the University of Maine women’s ice hockey team.
Two and a half weeks later, former U.S. Olympic women’s hockey team star Molly Engstrom was introduced as the new coach with just five weeks until the season opener.
But despite the circumstances, the Black Bears have signature wins over Northeastern (18-2-1) and Clarkson (16-5-1) — currently ranked the No. 8 and No. 11 teams in the country, respectively — and enter their midseason break with an 11-10 record overall. The team is 8-6 in Hockey East and is tied for fourth in the league standings with Boston College and the University of Connecticut.
“I think we’ve done well overall considering the circumstances,” said UMaine senior center and captain Morgan Trimper from Bangor. “We’ve had some losses you couldn’t have predicted and some wins you couldn’t have predicted.”
In both the Northeastern and Clarkson series, the Black Bears won their second games of each series after losing on the first night by 6-1 and 8-1 scores, respectively. UMaine edged Northeastern 1-0 on Oct. 22 and Clarkson 5-4 in overtime on Nov. 26.
“We proved we can beat any team in the country when we beat Northeastern,” said the 39-year-old Engstrom. “It’s a matter of ironing out details and making adjustments.”
UMaine also lost a heartbreaker with 10 seconds left in overtime to No. 4 Quinnipiac, which is 16-1.
“One of the things we had to do was establish an identity. And we have shown that when we outwork and outhustle our opponent, we can beat any team in the country,” Trimper said. “We need to make sure we go into every game with confidence, not feeling like we’re underdogs.”
The road win over Clarkson, featuring a game-tying goal by senior Ida Kuoppala with 45 ½ seconds left and a game-winner by sophomore Alyssa Wruble 34 seconds into overtime, triggered a three-game winning streak the Black Bears are taking into the Christmas break.
Most recently, the team swept Boston University with 3-0 and 3-2 victories.
“We’re trying to find consistency,” Engstrom said.
That consistency encompasses every aspect of the game.
Engstrom’s team has had off-nights, losing by five or more goals on four occasions.
Junior Jorden Mattison and freshman Brooklyn Oakes have shared the goaltending and had their ups and downs but are coming off strong outings. Oakes made 19 saves in shutting out BU and Mattison made 29 the next day.
They have identical 2.53 goals-against averages. Mattison has a .915 save percentage and Oakes is at .911. They have teamed up for five shutouts.
Juniors Elise Morphy and Kennedy Little have been stalwarts on defense with Morphy notching three goals and five assists and Little having a goal and an assist and 26 blocked shots.
“They are reliable, heads-up, puck-moving defensemen,” Engstrom said.
Sophomore Courtney Colarullo (0 & 3) leads the team in blocked shots with 28, and the other defenseman are graduate student Emma Lange (1 & 4), senior Nicole Pateman (0 & 1), Old Town junior Olivia King (0 & 2), freshman Cora Webber (1 & 0) and senior Amalie Andersen.
Danish national team player Andersen has played in just eight games due to an upper body injury.
The German national team freshman twins Luisa and Lilli Welcke have been the offensive difference-makers of late. They are on a line with fellow freshman Ava Stevenson.
Lilli Welcke, the Hockey East Rookie of the Month for November, had two goals in the 3-0 win over BU and her sister had a pair the next day.
“They love hockey and they are so competitive. They have chemistry and can find each other. They are gifted offensively. They like to play with a player who can control the puck like Ava. Ava’s a smart player,” Engstrom said.
Luisa Welcke leads the team in scoring with five goals and nine assists and Lilli Welcke is tied for second with 4 goals and nine assists. Stevenson has four assists.
Hungarian national teamer Mira Seregely had a goal and three assists against BU and she has six and seven on the season. The sophomore centers a line between Swiss national teamer Rahel Enzler (1 & 3) and Wruble (6 & 5, who are both juniors.
“Wruble has so much speed and creates a lot of things. She goes hard to the net,” Engstrom said. “Enzler has as high a hockey IQ as I’ve seen and Mira is adept physically and can create time and space with the puck. She has some moves.”
Graduate student Ally Johnson (2 & 1) centers a line between former All-Hockey East winger Kuoppala (5 & 5), a senior, and Grace Heiting (7 & 6), a graduate student. The Trimper twins, Morgan (2 & 1) and Ally (1 & 0), are linemates with various players on the other wing.
Engstrom said it has been a great three months.
“I’ve gotten to know them and they’ve gotten to know me. We’re building a relationship,” she said.
Morgan Trimper said the team has high expectations for the second half.
“In all my years here, this team has the best chance to win the Hockey East championship,” Trimper said.
The Black Bears return to the ice at Boston College on Jan. 5-6.