The University of Maine’s hockey team inched closer to earning home ice for the first round of the Hockey East playoffs with a 3-1 win at Boston College and a 1-1 tie at UMass Lowell.
Since the 9-6 loss at Boston University, the Black Bears have now given up just 11 goals over their last six games while going 4-1-1.
Even though they got a win at Boston College, their performance in Sunday afternoon’s tie was much more impressive.
The Black Bears had played Friday night at Boston College while UMass Lowell hadn’t played since the previous Saturday. UMaine outshot the River Hawks 12-4 over the third period and five-minute overtime, despite UMass Lowell having three power play chances in the third period while UMaine had none.
In both games, UMaine had 11 newcomers in the lineup, including eight freshmen on Friday night and seven on Sunday afternoon.
They remain without freshman Brandon Holt, who has missed five games after suffering a broken finger blocking a shot in a 3-2 win over Providence. He has been one of their top three defensemen and is tied with captain Jakub Sirota in points among their defensemen with 11 on four goals and seven assists.
UMaine is currently in seventh place in Hockey East, three points ahead of Boston College and five in front of New Hampshire.
The Black Bears are maturing and the veterans are leading the way. It is the time of year when you need your best and most experienced players to elevate their games and that is happening.
Junior center Lynden Breen has forced his way into All-Hockey East consideration with his seven-game goal-scoring streak in which he has tallied eight goals. His points streak is now at nine games (9 goals, 4 assists).
He has a career-high 16 goals on the season.
Graduate student Sirota and sophomore David Breazeale have been exceptional along the blue line and have been fueling the offense while senior left winger Ben Poisson, junior right winger Donavan Houle and sophomore center Nolan Renwick have combined with Breen and Alaska Fairbanks transfer Didrik Henbrant to be the offensive catalysts.
Houle has three goals and four assists over his last seven games; Poisson has 3 and 2 over his last seven; Renwick has 2 and 4 in seven and Henbrant has 4 and 2.
UMaine will conclude the road portion of its regular season schedule with a pair of 7 p.m. games on Friday and Saturday against a UNH team that has won four in a row. UNH has played 20 of its 24 league games while UMaine has played only 18.
UMass Lowell coach Norm Bazin, whose team earned the extra Hockey East point by winning the shootout 2-0, praised the Black Bears in a New England Sports Network interview after the game.
“They’re a very good hockey team. They’re playing very good hockey right now,” Bazin said.
UMaine is now 11-5-2 over its last 17 games. That includes a 3-3-2 record on the road, which is respectable considering that the Black Bears’ road record the previous four seasons was just 14-43-8.
Learning how to win on the road is one of the last obstacles to overcome en route to becoming a good hockey program. UMaine is now 4-9-2 away from home this season but that includes three one-goal setbacks against nationally ranked teams.
They have also done the job defensively, especially on the penalty kill as UMaine has held opponents scoreless on 26 of their last 27 attempts.
Junior goalie Victor Ostman continues to be rock solid between the pipes and made a marvelous full-extension last-second glove save to help UMaine earn the tie at UMass Lowell.
He is now 16th among 62 Division I teams in goals-against average (2.15) and save percentage (.922).
The Black Bears need to continue improving as they move towards the playoffs.
They have two-game home series against Boston College and UMass to close out the regular season after the trip to UNH and earning a home ice berth for the first round of the playoffs will be crucial.
If they were to win their first round game, they would be one road quarterfinal victory away from earning the program’s first trip to the Hockey East semifinals since the 2011-12 season.