Experience is one of the most critical factors during postseason play.
Teams that have experienced players in the lineup tend to be more relaxed, more confident, and better able to execute under the extra pressure that accompanies a championship tournament.
This year’s University of Maine hockey team has a fair amount of experience, but almost none of it has been in NCAA Tournament play. That doesn’t appear to be concerning Coach Shawn Walsh’s Black Bears, who take to the ice Saturday afternoon for their NCAA Tournament East Regional game at The Centrum in Worcester, Mass.
The obvious trivia question for Maine hockey fans heading into the regional is: Who are the only two Black Bears who have played in an NCAA Tournament game?
The first one is obvious. Senior captain Chris Imes was instrumental in Maine’s phenomenal 42-1-2 national championship season two years ago, when he earned All-America honors for his efforts.
The other? Would you believe third-string junior goaltender Greg Hirsch? He played all of 12 seconds in Maine’s 6-2 victory over Minnesota in the first round of the NCAAs on March 27, 1993.
That game also was played at The Centrum.
The Black Bears have competed in only five postseason games in the last two seasons, all in Hockey East Tournaments, and have a 2-3 record. Plus, this year’s team includes only three seniors in Imes and defensemen Dave MacIsaac and Jacque Rodrigue, as opposed to a group of 14 freshmen and sophomores who have played regularly.
Imes is convinced that Maine’s three games in the recent Hockey East Tournament, including a poor overall performance in a 7-3 semifinal loss to Providence, should take care of any jitters.
“The lack of tournament experience doesn’t bother me any more,” Imes said. “During the Hockey East playoffs, everybody got their feet wet. We’ll be ready to go. I’m excited, and everybody else should be, too.”
The loss to Providence was a timely wake-up call for the Bears, a reminder of how important composure and intensity are in the playoffs.
“One thing we learned is that everything can get away real quickly,” said sophomore right winger Brad Mahoney. “Everybody is really intense. There are no second chances. You’ve got to go out and play with everything you’ve got.”
Maine also boasts several players with significant experience in Canadian Junior hockey, which should be a plus this weekend as far as playing in big games.
“You can say we have a lack of tournament experience, but a lot of guys have played a lot of (playoff) hockey in Juniors,” said sophomore center Dan Shermerhorn. “We’ve got a bunch of guys who know what it takes.”