University of Maine hockey coach Tim Whitehead said suspended center Tanner House won’t return to the Black Bear lineup until his incident is completely investigated and resolved.
House was suspended indefinitely by athletic director Blake James after being charged with unlawful sexual touching and assault for grabbing a female patron’s breast at 103 Ultra Lounge last weekend.
He will continue to practice with the team, but won’t play in games, according to Whitehead.
“He has a court process, a university process, an athletic department process and hockey team process [to endure],” said Whitehead. “All those are going on right now. It takes time. In the meantime, he’s suspended from any competition.”
House’s loss is significant.
Even though the 21-year-old from Cochrane, Alberta, hasn’t figured prominently on the scoreboard with one goal and one assist in seven games, he played in all situations and centered one of Maine’s top two lines. House was used on the power play and as a penalty-killer and during important junctures of games (first and last minutes of a period or game).
His goal was the game-winner in the 3-2 win over Northeastern on Oct. 26.
Whitehead is hoping to regain the services of freshman forwards Andrew Sweetland, Keif Orsini and Robby Dee for this weekend’s home series against Providence College.
Right winger Sweetland has missed the last three games while center Orsini and left winger Dee were sidelined for last Friday’s 1-1 overtime tie at Boston College.
Sweetland, who had two assists in four games, has been sidelined since being cross-checked in the back during Maine’s 4-1 win over Mercyhurst College on Oct. 20.
Dee and Orsini have undisclosed injuries.
Orsini had two assists in five games and Dee has yet to register a point in six games.
“They practiced today without contact,” Whitehead said Tuesday. “They’re meeting with Dr. [John] West, our team doctor, tomorrow. Hopefully, they’ll get cleared to practice [with contact]. If not, maybe they’ll be cleared later this week. Then we’ll have to make a decision whether they will be effective in a game, conditioning-wise.
“Hopefully, one or all of them will be able to play this weekend,” added Whitehead.
If they aren’t able to play, coupled with House’s suspension, that will leave Maine one forward short and will prompt Whitehead to move a defenseman up front.
Whitehead has stated that he intends to redshirt Bangor forward Nick Payson this season.
Special teams a work in progress
Maine’s power play continues to struggle, but the penalty killing has been respectable so far.
Maine’s penalty-killing has been 84.2 percent efficient, killing off 32 of 38 power plays, while the power play is just 2-for-38 (5.3 percent).
“I’ve been pleased with the penalty-killing and our progress in that area but it needs to improve,” said Whitehead. “The power play is going to take time. There isn’t an overnight solution. We have to continue to work on developing skill and hockey sense. We’ve got to try to find different ways to attack the net.”
Whitehead said he has been happy with his team’s 4-2-1 start (2-0-1 in Hockey East) but knows it is very early in the season.
“I’ve been pleased with the contributions of our freshmen and some of the upperclassmen who have elevated their play and contributed in bigger roles than they had in the past,” said Whitehead. “The combination of those two has helped us get off to a good start.
“But it’s just a start. We’ve got to be very careful not to get too excited about where we’re at. Things change very quickly in this game,” added Whitehead.