The University of Maine’s ninth-ranked hockey team deserved a better fate in its pair of one-goal losses at No. 8 Boston University last weekend, especially Saturday night.
In Friday night’s 3-2 loss, the penalty-killing cost the Black Bears as BU scored on its first three power play chances. That is the first time this season that UMaine surrendered more than one power play goal in a game.
But they rallied from a 3-1 deficit and had chances to tie it only to have BU goalie Mathieu Caron come up with some key saves down the stretch.
Caron was the story again in Saturday’s 5-4 loss as he made 39 saves, including two in the final minute that UMaine head coach Ben Barr termed “game-savers” to enable his Terriers to hold on after nearly blowing a 5-2 third-period lead.
UMaine outshot BU 43-24 on Saturday but Caron clearly outplayed UMaine senior goalie Victor Ostman, who was lifted in the third period after surrendering five goals on just 20 shots. Freshman Albin Boija had an impressive debut as he stopped all four shots he faced in the nine minutes and 20 seconds he played.
“Victor was average on Saturday while their kid made some unbelievable saves,” Barr said. “Their goalie played better than ours. But Victor wasn’t the reason we lost the game.”
He explained that the team doesn’t have “a huge margin of error” against teams in Hockey East, especially while playing on the road.
“I can’t be upset with how the guys played. We went into their building and played one of the best teams in the country, if not the best team, and we enforced our will on them,” Barr said.“But we still lost. If we want to be the best, we have to find ways to win those games.”
Nobody has played a tougher early-season schedule than UMaine and the Black Bears are currently sporting a 6-3-1 record and are ranked 10th in this week’s U.S. College Hockey Online poll and 12th in the USA Hockey poll. Boston College is second and tied for first in the polls, respectively, at 9-2-1; defending national champ Quinnipiac, with whom UMaine split a series at Quinnipiac, is third in both at 9-3-1; and BU is fifth in each at 8-3-1.
The Black Bears also swept Merrimack on the road and Merrimack was an NCAA Tournament team a year ago.
BU coach Jay Pandolfo was impressed with UMaine and said the series reminded him of the buzz that accompanied the games between the two schools when both were consistently competing for national titles.
“Maine has a very good team. They’re hard to play against,” Pandolfo said. “They keep coming at you, and their defensemen pinch all the time. They don’t quit, they don’t give up.”
He added that Maine’s top all-New Brunswick line of senior captain Lynden Breen between freshman brothers Josh and Bradly Nadeau is “dangerous.”
“Every time they have the puck, they’re going to make a play,” Pandolfo said.
Right winger Josh Nadeau, the older of the brothers, currently has a six-game points streak in which he has racked up two goals and seven assists. Breen and Bradly Nadeau have each registered at least a point in five of their last six games with Breen tallying three goals and five assists and Bradly Nadeau posting five goals and three assists.
Josh Nadeau leads the team in scoring through 10 games with four goals and nine assists; brother Bradly has seven goals and five assists and Breen has 4 & 8.
While the penalty killing struggled over the weekend, allowing four goals on eight attempts, the power play went 3-for-7 and has now scored in three straight games after going through an 0-for-22 funk.
“Our penalty killing has to get better, especially against teams like that,” Barr said. “You have to shut them down on entry [into the UMaine zone]. If you let them set up in the zone, they’re like an NHL team.”
Barr was pleased with the play of his three freshmen defensemen, Liam Lesakowski, Bodie Nobes and Ryan Hopkins, along with freshman center Sully Scholle and the all-sophomore line of Felix Trudeau between Reid Pabich and Bentley University transfer Nicholas Niemo, who picked up his first UMaine goal on Saturday.
Niemo became the 14th Black Bear to score a goal this season and scoring depth is something the team needs.
Barr also liked Boija’s performance.
BU has 14 NHL draft choices to UMaine’s one: Carolina Hurricanes first-round pick (30th overall) Bradly Nadeau. Eight of their draft choices were selected in the first three rounds and freshman center Macklin Celebrini is projected to be the first overall pick in June.
The previous weekend, UMaine earned a win and a tie at home against Boston College, which also has 14 NHL draft picks including four first-rounders.
UMaine was without injured junior center and power forward Nolan Renwick and sophomore defenseman Grayson Arnott against BU and its lineup had 13 freshmen and sophomores among the 19 skaters.
The culture has changed dramatically over Barr’s three seasons.
This team now goes into games expecting to win, not just hoping to win. The players believe in themselves.
It is in the conversation for the program’s first NCAA Tournament berth since 2011-12 although it is still very early in the campaign.
“This team plays really hard,” said Barr, who noted that the only sub-par performance they have had came in the 4-1 loss to Quinnipiac on the second night after winning the opener 2-1 in overtime.
The Black Bears are off this weekend before entertaining the surprising New Hampshire Wildcats (12th, 10th in polls) on Friday, Dec. 1 at 7 p.m. and UConn two days later on Sunday at 5 p.m.
There are no easy wins on their Hockey East schedule so they have to keep getting better. The league is much better this year than it was a year ago. Since UMaine is such a young team, its improvement should be more dramatic than a veteran team’s improvement.
The fact they have played consistently well and have more depth than they’ve had in a long time is a very good sign.
But they cannot afford to get complacent and take anything for granted.
They must continue to outwork their opponents and use their speed and physicality to limit their opponents’ time and space with the puck and to extend forechecks in the offensive zone.