The University of Maine men’s hockey team had always been among the national leaders on the penalty kill.
Three years ago, the Black Bears killed off 88 percent of opponents’ power plays. Two years ago it was 88.9 percent, and last season they were successful 85. 7 percent of the time.
Six games ago, the Bears were killing penalties at a sub-par 78.6 percent success rate.
But they haven’t allowed a power-play goal in 22 chances over the last six games to elevate their percentage to 84.6.
And Maine has two shorthanded goals during that span to raise its season total to five.
“We’ve just stuck with it,” said senior right wing Rob Bellamy, one of the forwards on the penalty kill. “We work on it all the time in practice. We knew it would take a while, but it’s clicking now. We’ve done a good job in the shooting and passing lanes, we’ve blocked shots and we’ve made good clears.”
“We’ve always taken pride in our penalty-killing,” said senior defenseman and captain Travis Ramsey. “We’ve really been focusing on it in practice. We’ve invested a lot of time in it.”
“Penalty-killing is all about hard work [and we’ve been working hard]. We’ve been doing the little things right and we’ve stuck to the game plan,” added Ramsey.
“We’ve kept things simple,” said Maine senior left wing Billy Ryan. “We don’t get ahead of ourselves. We stay in the [passing and shooting] lanes. The coaches have been giving us systems [to use against opposing power plays] and we’ve been doing what they’ve been telling us to do.”
Several freshmen have been used on the penalty-killing units and Bellamy said that has “definitely been big for us.”
“A lot of veterans are on the power-play units, so it’s good that we’ve got young guys on the penalty kill [to save the veterans from being overworked],” said Bellamy.
The fact opponents have had just 22 power-play chances over the last six games is a testament to the Bears’ discipline.
“Our discipline has been awesome,” said Bellamy.
“You don’t want to have to kill off six or seven power plays a game,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead.
Maine’s power play is still way below average at 8.3 percent (7-for-84), but that is also showing some progress. Maine has three power-play goals in its last four games (3-for-18).
“We’ve taken a lot of baby steps the last five or six games as far as penalty-killing and the power play,” said Whitehead. “It hasn’t been one thing in particular [that has been instrumental]. It’s been a lot of little things we’ve been improving on gradually.”
“A lot of the younger players have improved their penalty-killing skills and that gives us more depth there,” added Whitehead, who also noted that freshmen are being used on the power play as well.
“The first-year players are becoming more confident in those situations,” said Whitehead.
He said he knew the special teams were going to be a “tough challenge” from the outset of the season because he lost so many players who were used in those situations. Seven of the 10 players on the top two power plays left.
“We’re making progress, but we’ve got to keep working on [special teams play],” said Whitehead.
de Kastrozza has knee surgery
Black Bear sophomore center-winger David de Kastrozza had successful knee surgery earlier this week, according to Whitehead.
“He tore his ACL [anterior cruciate ligament] during captain’s practices [in September] and tried to come back and play with a knee brace, but he finally decided to cut his losses and have the surgery,” said Whitehead. “He will face a six-month rehab.
“A big part of his game was the physical component, and without stability in his knee and with pain in his knee, he wasn’t able to play to his potential. We could have used a big, strong kid who can skate like David, but he wasn’t able to play at 100 percent and it was really eating at him,” said Whitehead. “To have it done now rather than wait until the end of the year is a very smart move because he could be cleared to play by July.”
He played in eight games so he can’t be a medical redshirt. He had an assist in seven games. He had three assists in 21 games last season.
Also on the injury front, senior center Keenan Hopson said he is hoping to be back in the lineup when Maine visits Providence in 10 days. He has a separated left shoulder.
Whitehead is thinking more along the lines of having him for the Boston College series on Jan. 25-26.
Hopson has three goals and four assists in 17 games.
Junior left wing Chris Hahn, who had been sidelined with a broken finger, suffered a broken jaw in his first practice back. An errant puck struck him as he and his mates worked on their shooting after practice.
Whitehead said he’s hoping to get Hahn back in February. Hahn had 4 & 1 in 12 games.
Freshman left wing Glenn has missed three games with a high ankle sprain but could be back Saturday. He has returned to practice. He had 1 & 2 in three games.