University of Maine junior center Lynden Breen is enjoying the best stretch of his college career.
As he and his Black Bears begin the final legs of the season, Breen is on a seven-game points streak in which he has registered seven goals and four assists.
The 5-foot-9, 173-pound native of Grand Bay-Westfield, New Brunswick, has scored six goals in a five-game goal streak, including a pair of shorthanded goals on a Merrimack College power play on Sunday. The third-period goals tied the game at 2-2 and set the stage for Ben Poisson’s overtime game-winner on which Breen assisted.
The team has eight Hockey East regular season games remaining, including Friday night’s game at Boston College, before the conference playoffs
After scoring 12 goals in 49 career games in his first two seasons, Breen has a team-high 14 in 27 games this season.
“I’ve been in the right spot at the right time, in front of the net, to be honest,” said Breen. “Other than the shorthanded goals last game, the others haven’t been pretty ones. They’ve been hard-working goals. However I can put one in to help our team [is fine with me].”
Breen scored two goals in the season-opening 4-1 win at the U.S. Air Force Academy but managed just one over the next 10 games. But he scored 11 in his past 16 games during which the team has gone 10-5-1, improving to the 12-13-2.
He said he had benefited from the fact everybody has been playing better of late.
“It has been a team effort. Kudos to my linemates,” Breen said.
“He has games when he’s the best player on the ice,” said UMaine head coach Ben Barr. “In the first half of the game on Sunday, he blended in a little bit. Then he kind of took the game over.”
Barr said the team doesn’t need Breen to win the game for them every night, but “when he plays at the level he is capable of, he makes us a way better team.”
“He is our leader,” said UMaine sophomore center Nolan Renwick. “He is a great hockey player. We’re going to need him even more down the stretch. But we need other guys to step up, too, including myself. If we can get everyone rolling like he is right now, we’re going to do some damage.”
The Black Bears, who have scored 20 points in 16 games, are 6-9-1 in Hockey East and eighth in the standings. Seven of their last eight games are against teams who are tight around them in the standings, including three games against seventh-place Boston College (21 points in 17 games) and two apiece against 10th place New Hampshire (14 in 18) and ninth-place UMass (15 in 16).
They have three games against seventh-place Boston College (21 points in 17 games) and two apiece against 10th place New Hampshire (14 in 18) and ninth-place UMass (15 in 16).
Sunday afternoon’s opponent, UMass Lowell, is in fifth place with 30 points in 17 contests.
“We definitely have to take it one game at a time,” said Renwick. “It doesn’t sound like we have a lot of games left, but we have four weeks of crucial hockey left, and every game is big from here on out. We’re playing a lot of teams close to us in the standings.”
The top-five teams receive byes for the first round of the league playoffs, while the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-place teams host single-elimination playoff games against the lowest three seeds.
Barr and his players would like to lock up a home berth for the first round.
“We haven’t really talked about what place we’re in,” Barr said. “We need to be playing our best hockey as we get to the end of the year.”
He said even though his team has won more games in the second half of the season, the work ethic hasn’t been as consistent as it was in the first half, and they still have a “lot of stuff to clean up,” including cutting down on their penalties.
UMaine is only the 33rd-most-penalized team among 62 Division I teams, with 10.48 penalty minutes per game, but opponents have had 22 more power plays than the Black Bears.
“We have to be more disciplined,” said Breen.
Barr noted that they have more confidence and belief in themselves this season. They feel they can find ways to win a game even when they aren’t at their best.
“They wouldn’t have won Sunday’s game last season,” said Barr. “So that’s positive.
“But we have been playing three lines and four or five defensemen because we’ve had three or four players in each game who have that deer-in-headlights kind of look,” Barr added. “That’s natural, especially with a young team. But we need them to snap out of it. We have to get to a point where we can play four lines and six or seven defensemen. We need contributions from everyone.”
“We have good confidence right now, but we have to dial in on the smaller details,” said sophomore David Breazeale. “We have to be confident enough to make plays and trust each other. And when we make mistakes, we have to be able to recover and not allow the puck to end up in the back of our net.”