Wins were few and far between for junior Lynden Breen and senior Ben Poisson in their first two seasons as teammates with the University of Maine men’s hockey team.
The Black Bears went 10-33-6 overall and just 8-27-4 in Hockey East.
But they knew that head coach Ben Barr was determined to establish a winning culture and return the once-elite program to national prominence. They wanted to be part of that resurgence and were more than willing to put in the work and help provide the leadership required for it.
Sunday afternoon’s remarkable 3-2 comeback overtime win over Merrimack showcased their desire to get the program turned around.
UMaine had been 0-12 in games when trailing after two periods this season.
UMaine hadn’t been able to muster many quality scoring chances in five-on-five situations against a veteran Warriors team that has seven players with more than 100 games of college experience compared with UMaine’s two.
The Black Bears were trailing 2-0 and Merrimack went on a power play with just 10:45 remaining in the game.
But Breen scored a pair of shorthanded goals on that power play, one off a perfect feed from Poisson on a two-on-one and another on a breakaway off a long pass from Grayson Arnott to tie it.
And then center Breen and left wing Poisson helped the Black Bears kill off a five-minute major before teaming up on the overtime game-winner when Breen sensed there was a tired trio of Warriors on the ice and put on a burst of speed before passing to Luke Antonacci, who then fired the puck to the far post where the unattended Poisson tipped it home.
This was a game UMaine teams over the past 10 years wouldn’t have won.
That’s not to say this team is going to contend for a Hockey East championship this season. But a win like this one, following an impressive showing in a 5-3 loss to third-ranked Boston University on Friday night, validates the fact that the team is trending in the right direction.
The Black Bears could be a tough out in the playoffs.
They have evolved into a team that believes they can win any game, not one that hopes it can.
They are 12-13-2 overall and 6-9-1 in the conference with three of those losses coming to Boston University.
Special teams will be very important during the final eight regular season games as well as the playoffs. Over the last four games, UMaine is 5-for-13 on the power play and has killed off 19 of 20 opponents’ power plays.
Goalie Victor Ostman stopped a breakaway and made several other critical saves in the win over Merrimack and has provided the Black Bears with the goaltending they need to win games.
However, BU has certainly been a thorn in Ostman’s side.
He has a 6.24 goals-against average and an .800 save percentage in his three starts against the Terriers this season, and a 1.85 GAA and .932 save percentage against everybody else.
Then again, BU makes a lot of good goalies look mediocre. The Terriers lead the country in scoring with 4.23 goals per game.
Following the Merrimack game, second-year head coach Barr praised Breen, Poisson and defensemen Jakub Siriota and David Breazeale, the team’s four captains, for their roles in the win. Sirota is the captain and the other three are the assistant captains.
Breen has now extended his points streak to seven games (7 goals, 4 assists) and his goal-scoring streak to five games, in which he has six goals.
Poisson has five goals and five assists over his last nine games.
Graduate student Sirota and sophomore Breazeale have each logged a ton of minutes as they play in all situations. They have been solid on both ends of the ice and have been valuable role models for a youthful defense corps that includes five freshmen.
UMaine is currently in eighth place in Hockey East with 20 points. It is one point behind seventh-place Boston College, Friday night’s opponent in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. UMaine has played one fewer game than the Eagles.
It will host BC for two on Feb. 25-26.
It will face fifth-place UMass Lowell (30 points) on Sunday at 2 p.m.
It will also visit New Hampshire (14 points) on Feb. 17-18 and finish the season by entertaining UMass (15 points) on March 3-4.
The top five teams earn first-round byes and teams that finish sixth, seventh and eighth will host first-round games against the 11th, 10th and ninth finishers, respectively.
The first-round winners will face one of the top three seeds in the quarterfinals. The fourth place team will host the No. 5 finisher in the other quarterfinal.
UMaine controls its own destiny when it comes to hosting a playoff game. It is too far behind UMass Lowell to crack the top five but seventh or eighth is attainable.
That would be a noteworthy accomplishment for a team picked to finish last place (11th) in the coaches’ preseason poll.
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the class year for University of Maine hockey left wing Ben Poisson. He is a senior.