The University of Maine’s hockey team didn’t play particularly well this weekend in its series sweep of University of Alaska Anchorage.
The Black Bear passes weren’t always crisp, with several of them being either too far ahead of the intended recipient, behind him or in his skates.
The players turned the puck over far too often and 35 of their 159 shot attempts missed the net. Another 36 were blocked by Seawolves.
UMaine’s power play went 0-for-6 with 15 shots on goal in the two games and is now 55th among 60 Division I schools in efficiency at a dreary 11.9 percent.
UAA had one of the nation’s worst penalty-killing percentages at 76.9 percent entering the series.
But the fact UMaine came out with two wins on freshman left winger Thomas Freel’s goal with 20 seconds left in regulation to win 1-0 on Friday and sophomore transfer right wing Cole Hanson’s overtime tally in Saturday’s 4-3 win is certainly noteworthy.
These are games the Black Bears perhaps wouldn’t have won in the previous 10 years as the program has fallen from elite status to mediocrity — or even worse.
In each game, they had to kill a penalty late in the third period to keep the game tied and UAA didn’t get one shot on goal on either of them. The Black Bears came through in the clutch on the penalty kill.
UMaine is now 8-9-2 overall and has gone 6-1-1 in its last eight games. It has already won more games than all of last season (7-22-4).
The Black Bears have gained confidence and are slowly building a winning culture.
They are still the only team to beat Quinnipiac (4-0), which is 17-1-3 and the No. 1 team in the country this week in the U.S. College Hockey Online poll.
UMaine is beginning the stretch run this weekend when perennial Hockey East top-five finisher UMass Lowell comes to Orono for a pair of Hockey East games on Friday and Saturday nights at 7 p.m.
The River Hawks are currently 16th in the latest USCHO poll with their 11-8-1 record.
UMass Lowell was swept at home by Alaska Anchorage two weekends ago, 4-2 and 3-2.
UMaine has 16 games remaining, all Hockey East contests, and 10 of those will be at the Alfond Arena in Orono.
The Black Bears are 2-5-1 in conference play after playing six of their first eight league games on the road.
They will have to play better than they did against a gritty and hard-working Alaska Anchorage team that did an exceptional job limiting odd-man rushes with its neutral zone defense. UAA also effectively bottlenecked the front of its net to block shots and made it difficult for UMaine to generate rebound opportunities.
More skilled Hockey East teams will capitalize on UMaine’s turnovers.
UMaine head coach Ben Barr felt the work ethic was better than it was the previous weekend in a 5-2 loss and 1-1 tie at Colgate and that the team started to look more like the team that won four games in a row before the Christmas break.
The good news for the Black Bears is that two of the players who had sub-par weekends against Alaska Anchorage were captain and defenseman Jakub Sirota and junior center and assistant captain Lynden Breen — and the team still managed to post a pair of victories.
You can expect Sirota and Breen to return to form this weekend.
Goalie Victor Ostman had allowed only three goals in his previous five games leading up to Saturday night.
He wasn’t at his best Saturday but still made saves when he had to and came out with the win.
His goals-against average is now 1.87, which is sixth-best in the country.
The Black Bears will need to continue to get quality goaltending from Ostman because they aren’t going to be lighting up the scoreboard. They are averaging 2.42 goals per game, which is just 48th.
They are ranked 13th in team defense at 2.37 goals per game allowed, so it is just a matter of getting a little bit better offensively and maintaining their strong defensive play.
They will score more goals if they can get the power play producing.
The question is do they have the personnel capable of transforming it into a respectable power play or will they have to wait until next season?
Even if the answer is no, they still have to find a way to generate enough goals on the power play to help earn victories.