The University of Maine’s hockey team continued its ascent over the weekend with a win and a tie against No.1-ranked Boston College in front of rowdy sell-out crowds of 5,043 whose energy served as an extra skater for the Black Bears.
UMaine is 6-1-1 overall, including a 4-1-1 mark against Quinnipiac, Boston College and Merrimack, who were picked second, sixth and 14th in the U.S. College Hockey Online preseason poll. The games against Quinnipiac and Merrimack were on the road.
UMaine has climbed to ninth in the country in the latest U.S. College Hockey Online poll.
The long lines of students braving the brisk temperatures to get into the game harkened back to the days when players named Roy, Montgomery, Pellerin, Kariya, Ferraro, Ingraham, Larose, Michaud, Cullen, Carney, Weinrich, Dunham, Snow and Capuano were lacing up their skates for the Black Bears.
The Black Bears entered the series with one National Hockey League draft pick compared to Boston College’s 14.
Four of BC’s draft picks are first-rounders, including the top line featuring Will Smith (San Jose, 4th overall pick) between Gabe Perrault (New York Rangers, 23rd overall) and Ryan Leonard (Washington, 8th). And they were dynamic.
UMaine’s only draft pick is freshman left wing Bradly Nadeau (Carolina, 30th overall), and he has shown all season why the Hurricanes chose him with his NHL shot and playmaking ability.
But one of the staples of UMaine’s hockey success during the glory days was its ability to find undrafted players who outworked their opponents and were solid, all-around performers.
Montgomery, the school’s all-time leading scorer and a UMaine Sports Hall of Famer, was never drafted. The Boston Bruins’ reigning Jack Adams Award winner (NHL’s best coach) and former Black Bear All-American captained UMaine to its first NCAA title in 1992-93.
And that’s what you are seeing this year.
UMaine scored six goals in its 4-2 win and 2-2 overtime tie against Boston College and 11 different players registered a goal or an assist.
Having a team that has balance and depth is something third-year head coach Ben Barr sought and recruited for.
UMaine was without injured junior center Nolan Renwick for the series, and he is one of the team’s assistant captains and most experienced players. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Renwick is also one of their top power forwards who is valuable in all situations.
But freshman Sully Scholle filled in nicely.
Sophomore defenseman Grayson Arnott, who scored the empty-net goal that clinched Friday night’s win, suffered an upper body injury in Saturday’s game and freshmen Liam Lesakowski and Ryan Hopkins played well in his absence.
UMaine dressed seven defensemen for the game.
“It’s a good thing to have depth. You have to lean on all of your guys when it is time to step up and they all did. It was good to see,” said Barr. “The guys always play hard.”
The fourth line with Felix Trudeau between fellow sophomores Reid Pabich and Bentley University transfer Nicholas Niemo produced one of the goals on Saturday night with Trudeau notching the goal and Pabich and Niemo earning assists.
They were impactful all weekend and gave the team a spark.
Trudeau is the 12th Black Bear to score a goal this season.
UMaine has the nation’s best faceoff winning percentage (55.8 percent), has given up just 2.25 goals per game which is eighth best among 64 Division I schools and has the 11th best penalty killing percentage (88 percent). It is 19th in goal scoring (3.25 gpg) but that is three-quarters of a goal better than last season.
Two crucial penalty kills on Saturday, including one in overtime, enabled UMaine to earn a tie.
“They’re a very good hockey team,” said Boston College head coach and former BC defenseman and assistant coach Greg Brown.
“They are well-balanced. They have offense, they have defense, they have guys who play physical and guys who can make plays,” observed Brown. “They’re well-rounded and they have good goaltending, too.”
The Black Bears were impressive on the forecheck, using their speed and tenacity to force turnovers and force BC’s high-powered lineup to spend a lot of time in its end.
They were also good at limiting BC’s time and space with the puck.
And senior goalie Victor Ostman was solid both nights as UMaine held a team averaging four goals per game to two each night.
UMaine outshot BC 38-28 the first night and 33-28 the second night.
And the crowd was a definite factor each night.
“It’s a special place,” said Barr, who is in his 18th season coaching at the collegiate level with his sixth team. “I just stood there before the period started and thought ‘Wow, this is unreal.”
UMaine’s top line of Breen between the Nadeau brothers, Bradley and Josh, is worth the price of admission. The chemistry, the creativity, the skill and the intensity is special.
And a subtle plus on Saturday was a power play goal by Josh Nadeau off a Breen pass that snapped an 0-for-22 drought with the man advantage.
That should relieve the pressure and enable the Black Bears to be more productive on the power play.
That was the only part of its game that was struggling and it was struggling mightily.
Barr said he knew this team had the ability to get off to a good start but having expectations and living up to them are two different things.
But the head coach isn’t getting caught up in the hype. He quickly pointed out that there is still 80 percent of the season remaining.
“We’re happy with the season to date but it can go away real fast like it did last year. You can’t get caught up in things like the rankings,” said Barr referring to their two home losses to UMass on the last weekend of the regular season and setback to visiting Vermont in their Hockey East playoff game.
UMaine had taken a 4-0-3 record in its previous seven games into the UMass series.
The road doesn’t get any easier this weekend with the Black Bears traveling to take on No. 8 Boston University, the preseason No. 1 pick in the USCHO poll.
The Terriers feature the nation’s leading scorer in 17-year-old freshman Macklin Celebrini, who is averaging two points per game, and All-American defenseman Lane Hutson, who was a Hobey Baker Award finalist as a freshman last season.
There is a long way to go, but last weekend was memorable.
Just imagine how much money the university would have raked in during the BC series if it sold beer like they do at eight of the other 10 Hockey East rinks?