When it came time to reschedule the Maine-Towson University men’s basketball game that became just one casualty of the ice storm on Jan. 8, Maine’s remote location made a neutral site at New Hampshire’s Lundholm Gym attractive to America East.
“Unfortunately for us, the most important factors were convenience and cost,” Maine coach John Giannini said of the Feb. 1 matchup.
The Black Bears will be in Durham, N.H., anyway to face UNH in a Jan. 31 game, while Towson has a road game in Hartford the same day.
Those factors, along with the limited number of mutual dates available, led to the neutral site.
“It’s a bus trip and a night’s hotel [to UNH for Towson] as opposed to an airline, a bus and two nights of hotels and meals,” Giannini said.
For Giannini, the loss of another home date – the Jan. 10 game against Delaware was played in front of no fans at Penobscot Job Corps gym in Bangor – was aggravating.
“I’m disappointed now because out of 18 conference dates, we only have seven at Alfond [Arena],” Giannini said.
The Black Bears have been decidedly more effective in the Alfond’s friendly confines, as they’ve amassed a 4-1 record there this year. Away from Alfond, they’re 1-9.
The addition of the makeup game will present a grueling road challenge for the Bears. Beginning with the Jan. 31 game against UNH, the Bears play five times in nine days. Four are road contests.
Fans who bought tickets to the Towson and Delaware men’s basketball games when the ice storm struck are being reimbursed on a 2-for-1 basis.
Ticketholders can turn in unused tickets to those games and in return they will receive two tickets to an upcoming home game.
Each of the games targeted by the offer offer an intriguing matchup. Fans can watch the Bears take on America East leader Vermont on Feb. 3, defending league champ Boston University on Feb. 12, or the Northeastern Huskies of former UMaine coach Rudy Keeling on Feb. 14.
A goal scoring deficiency doesn’t only exist in the NHL.
If Hockey East continues its current trend, the league will set a record for fewest goals per game in a season.
The current average of 7.46 goals per game by two teams is .31 lower than the previous mark set during the 1985-86 season.
The average over the league’s 14-year history is 8.14 goals per game with the highest being Maine’s national championship season in 1992-93. The league averaged 8.7 goals per game thanks to Maine’s 6.75 average.
“The game has changed. There’s a lot tighter checking now,” said Hockey East referee Jim Fitzgerald, who has officiated in the league since it was formed. “Some teams don’t even forecheck. They drop five back and clog up the neutral zone.”
Maine coach Shawn Walsh said the use of videotape has a lot to do with the drought.
“Defense is easier to teach and players are held more accountable defensively,” said Walsh. “Teams are also playing more conservatively.”
Walsh said that the advent of three large ice surfaces at New Hampshire (200-by-100), UMass (200-by-95) and Northeastern (200-by-90) has decreased the amount of offense.
“You’re really forced to [neutral zone] trap on the big ice sheet,” said Walsh.
Maine senior left wing Scott Parmentier said, “Everybody plays the trap now, even New Hampshire. It has made it a boring game.”
BU coach Jack Parker said the league has several top-notch goaltenders this season and the teams that have made the biggest jumps from last year to this season – New Hampshire, Northeastern, and Boston College – have been able to do so “by improving their overall team defense.”
“This is the best year for talent in the league since ’91 and when every game is hotly contested, you tend to have more low-scoring games. You don’t have 7-2 scores,” added Parker.
“Last week, just two points separated the top seven teams in the league and they all play sound defense,” Maine tri-captain Steve Kariya said.