September 16, 2019
MEN'S COLLEGE HOCKEY

Bears have no margin for error

You are a University of Maine hockey fan and you are bewildered.

Even though you were warned that this team is without players who registered 67.7 percent of its goals, you didn’t expect the drop-off to be this significant.

You never anticipated the team getting off to its worse start (4-6-1) since the 1985-86 season.

But it makes sense.

Maine has just one player who has scored more than eight goals in a season: senior left wing Billy Ryan (13 last year, 10 the year before).

When a team struggles offensively, its margin of error is razor-thin.

To win games, it must be squeaky clean in the defensive zone, receive exceptional goaltending and be solid on its special teams.

It must also avoid injuries to key players and steer clear of off-ice situations that lead to suspensions of players.

Injuries to senior center Wes Clark (seven points in seven games) and right wing Vince Laise (four in seven) and freshman right wing Andrew Sweetland (four in eight) have hurt, as has the six-game suspension issued to freshman center Tanner House, who was the most consistent rookie and who played in all situations.

Sweetland has returned, House has to serve two more games on his suspension, and Clark and Laise could be back within a few weeks.

The power play has been woeful (5.9 percent) and, in fact, Maine has just one more power play goal (three) than the number of shorthanded goals (two) it has allowed.

When you lose seven of the 10 players off your top two power plays, you don’t expect much from the power play, but you do expect improvement.

That hasn’t happened.

A suggestion: use 6-foot-7 defenseman Simon Danis-Pepin in front as the screener much the same way the New Jersey Devils used defenseman Scott Stevens.

Danis-Pepin, who is emerging into an elite defenseman, has good hands and a great reach and could swat home some garbage goals. He would also be valuable tying up defensemen.

The Bears must also work on one-timing the puck and moving into shooting lanes when they don’t have the puck.

Even if a shooter partially fans on a one-timer and it bounces to the net, the quick release forces the goalie to make a reaction save so he won’t be in as good a position to control the rebound.

The Bears are in a transition period.

They have a useful senior class, but they don’t have game-breakers like last year’s seniors.

Defenseman Bret Tyler (seven points) has been good but they need more production from Ryan (2 goals, 2 assists), Keenan Hopson (2 goals) and Rob Bellamy (3 assists).

Maine’s junior and sophomore classes are extremely thin at forward. Two other forwards who would have been sophomores (Zach Sill and Tyler Czuba) left school due to an off-ice incident. So Maine has just three forwards in those two classes and they have 8 goals in 114 games although junior defenseman Matt Duffy will help out noticeably at right wing.

Juniors Chris Hahn and Jeff Marshall are markedly improved and sophomore Davie de Kastrozza can be a helpful role player.

The 10-member freshman class is promising and bodes well for the future.

Maine must be airtight defensively and scrap tenaciously for goals or this will be an even longer year.

Larry Mahoney can be reached at 990-8231, 1-800-310-8600 or by email at lmahoney@bangordailynews.net.


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