ORONO – A rested University of Maine hockey team knows it can’t allow 4.5 goals per game in its remaining 13 Hockey East contests if it is going to make any kind of run at a top four finish in the league.
The Bears, who haven’t played since Dec. 13, find themselves 8-7-2 overall, 5-5-1 in Hockey East.
Maine coach Shawn Walsh indicated that his Bears may take a more conservative approach on the forecheck, possibly the neutral zone trap, to limit the goals against when they open the second half of their schedule at Merrimack College on Friday night and at Boston College on Saturday evening.
“We need to play a little more disciplined offensively. It might involve some trapping,” said Walsh. “We have to play better defensively. We have to make ourselves a more difficult team to play against.”
He said he was concerned about his team’s conditioning, timing and defensive intensity after the long layoff “but, so far, the players have done a nice job getting themselves back to that tempo.”
Maine had two days of double sessions to shake off the rust.
Walsh said his team can’t be thinking about the 15-3 run it made at the end of last season because the circumstances are completely different this time around.
“Seven of our next eight games are against teams that are ahead of us in the standings,” Walsh said. “And this is a completely different team. We just have to take things game by game and keep trying to improve.”
As it now stands, the Bears will be without three suspended players in goalie Bryan Masotta, winger Matt Oliver and defenseman Shawn Mansoff for their alleged roles in the racial slurs and death threats issued to football wide receiver Dwayne Wilmot in December.
On the injury front, left wing Jason Vitorino remains sidelined with a sprained knee and deep thigh bruise.
Left wing Matthias Trattnig is still nursing a sprained ankle and center Ben Guite has bruised ribs but both skated on Monday and, barring any further injury, should be in the lineup this weekend, according to Walsh.
However, left wing Tuomo Jaaskelainen, the league’s Rookie of the Week for the week ending Dec. 14, will miss this weekend’s games to tend to family matters in his native Finland. He won’t return until Sunday.
Junior defenseman Dave Cullen said the Bears have to become more consistent and said a defense-first approach is necessary.
“We played a more conservative style of forecheck against UMass-Lowell at times and it seemed to work pretty well. We clogged up the neutral zone,” said Cullen. “We’ve always stressed defense and created offense off our defense. You aren’t going to win many games giving up five goals.”
Senior right wing and tri-captain Shawn Wansborough said the Bears need to prove to the rest of the hockey world they are better than their record indicates.
“Luckily, we’ve got a lot of good teams left on our schedule,” said Wansborough. “In years past, we’ve won all our close games. It doesn’t seem that we’ve won or lost any close games this year. It’s like every game has been decided by three or four goals. We’ve got to keep games tight and try to wear teams down. That will be to our advantage.”
Perhaps the biggest key will be the play of sophomore goalie Alfie Michaud, who struggled in the first half but stopped 52 of 58 shots in the win and tie against UMass-Lowell.
“I’ve started to feel better, confidence-wise. I can see it in my practices. I’m really looking forward to Friday night,” said Michaud.