A disappointing first portion of the season is over.
The University of Maine men’s hockey team hopes the warmth of south Florida will thaw out its offense as the Black Bears look to defend their championship in the Florida College Classic in Estero.
The goal-deprived Black Bears, 5-7-2 overall, take on 10-5 Clarkson University, the nation’s No. 8-ranked team, in today’s 7:30 p.m. game after 4-4-1 Cornell University and 7-4-4 UMass Lowell, ranked No. 20, open the tourney at 4 p.m.
The consolation and championship games will be at 4 and 7:30, respectively, on Saturday.
“We have certainly made progress in the last month,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “We have been practicing real well and playing real well. Unfortunately, we haven’t gotten all the results we wanted. That last step is to get the results.”
Maine is 1-5-2 in its last eight games but is 1-1-1 over its last three and has held opponents to two goals or less in four of its last six games.
But Maine has been held to one goal or less seven times already.
And its power play is in a 2-for-36 (.056) funk.
Maine senior left wing and assistant captain Billy Ryan said the Bears have to improve their special teams and said the coaching staff has “really shaken things up on the power play” in preparation for the tournament.
“We’ve got two strong units instead of loading up just one of them,” said Ryan, who is being moved back to the point on the man-advantage for the first time this season.
“That’s where I feel the most comfortable on the power play,” said Ryan.
Whitehead said Ryan has a lot of composure with the puck which is a valuable commodity as a point man on the power play.
Ryan feels he and his mates have to “get hungrier in front of the net” to break out of the scoring drought.
Eight freshmen have played in at least nine games so far and senior defenseman and captain Travis Ramsey said he doesn’t consider them freshmen any more because of the experience they’ve attained so far.
That should pay dividends over the rest of the season, he said.
“They know the systems and they know what we expect of them,” said Rams
He also said the freshmen have made a strong commitment to defense which is uncharacteristic of young players.
“Team defense is one of the hardest parts of the game [to learn],” said Ramsey.
The Bears and Cornell have been involved in the tournament every year and Ryan said that could work to their advantage, especially against teams that haven’t played in the tournament and get caught up in the distractions that can accompany it.
Clarkson has played in only the first tournament and UML is making its first appearance.
“We treat it as a business trip,” said Ryan.
Maine is 8-5-1 in the event and has won the most titles (three).
The tie occurred against St. Cloud State in the 2004-2005 season and St. Cloud State ultimately won a shootout to advance to the final.
Junior goalie Ben Bishop said the tournament will present the Bears with a good challenge and noted that despite their struggles, “we’re fortunate that we’re still in the mix [in Hockey East]” and can move up the standings quickly if they can string together some league wins after the tournament.