July 02, 2020

Changes helping Black Bears> UMaine unbeaten in 4 games thanks to defensemen, Michaud

The University of Maine has been known as an aggressive, in-your-face forechecking team.

But Maine coach Shawn Walsh, with a depleted lineup, successfully used a passive 0-5 forecheck and a neutral zone trap to tie Boston College 0-0 in overtime on Saturday and said it probably won’t be the last time they use it this season.

“It’s safe to say it will be shown again at some point,” said Walsh. “It will depend on the score and the team we’re playing.”

The 0-5 forecheck allows an opponent to lug the puck out of the defensive zone unmolested. However, when the puck carrier reaches his own blue line, the trapping team attacks him with one or two players and forces him to get rid of the puck. The trapping team, with all five of its players in the neutral zone, rotates and clogs up the neutral zone. That forces the opponent to dump the puck into the offensive zone.

If the team being trapped tries to get too fancy and overpasses to force an initial rush opportunity, it can lead to turnovers and a good scoring chance for the trapping team.

Maine junior center Bobby Stewart said the system is “simple but you need all five guys playing it right.”

BC coach Jerry York said, “It was so different from a typical Maine-BC game. But with the disqualifications and injuries and stuff, it was a good, solid defensive game plan for Shawn.”

Instead of the system, Walsh preferred to look at his team’s current four-game unbeaten streak [2-0-2] as “a young team coming of age.

“Our team has learned how to play within itself the last four games. We haven’t been giving up any odd-man rushes so, consequently, we’ve given up very few even-strength goals,” said Walsh whose Bears have surrendered six even-strength goals among the 12 they’ve allowed in those four games. “I finally feel comfortable that this team knows how to play at this level.

“But we have to look in the mirror and realize that we can play better and that we have to play better,” added Walsh, who pointed out that his Bears were ranked 14th in the country in this week’s Ratings Percentage Index.

He praised the performances turned in by defensemen David Cullen, Robert Ek, Adam Tate and Jason Price against BC. Maine was without senior defenseman Brian White and senior right wing Shawn Wansborough, who were sitting out game disqualifications incurred against Merrimack on Friday night.

One of the players who has come to the forefront has been sophomore goalie Alfie Michaud.

Michaud has a 2.86 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage during the streak. Michaud struggled at the beginning of last season but finished with a 12-2 record, a 2.39 GAA and a .899 save percentage over his last 14 games.

“I’m just going to go out and work as hard as I can. I want to keep trying to improve and, hopefully, we can get a little run going,” said Michaud, who was named Hockey East Player of the Week for his 93 saves on 99 shots in two games.

Walsh said there have been a couple of important developments in Michaud’s improvement.

“First of all, having Javier [Gorriti] back helps Alfie. He’s almost a mentor to Alfie. They enjoy rooming together on the road,” said Walsh. “And Alfie is now free to focus totally on the puck. Earlier in the year, because of our youthfulness, Alfie spent half the time focusing on the puck and half the time [focusing] on the open man to the side of the net.”

Maine freshman left wing Tuomo Jaaskelainen was scheduled to fly back to Bangor over the weekend from his native Finland. Instead, he flew to Boston so he could join the team for the BC game.

He took a cab from Logan International Airport, arrived before the start of the second period but had to borrow assistant coach Mario Thyer’s skates since his baggage was lost.

“There was something wrong with the blades. I couldn’t skate,” said Jaaskelainen, who had one shift and fell twice.

His baggage has since arrived.

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