Team of the Week: Maine
CHN Staff Report
After starting strong, it looked like Maine was going to surpass everyone's expectations. The conventional wisdom was that the loss of goalie Jimmy Howard to the pros would hurt the Black Bears' chances, even though they had a lot of other things going for them. But the goaltending, with sophomore Matt Lundin and freshman Ben Bishop, had Maine winning games. It was ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation at Halloween, and No. 4 as of Thanksgiving.
Then came the lull. Losses to Vermont, Providence and Minnesota-Duluth. And, after the holidays, a sweep at the hands of Boston University, followed by a loss to Providence. The goaltending was not as sharp, and the injuries were mounting. And then there was the off-ice incident with the law, which got Mike Hamilton and Wes Clark suspended.
Lo and behold, injured key players like Michel Leveille and Bret Tyler have returned, and the turmoil is in the rear-view mirror. But what also has returned is the confidence of 6-foot-7 Bishop, who has now assumed the mantle of No. 1 goalie. Consequently, Maine has gone 7-1-1 since, and capped that stretch with a sweep of Boston College this past weekend at Alfond Arena, a weekend for which Bishop was named Hockey East Player of the Week for the first time.
Saturday's win also earned coach Tim Whitehead his 200th career victory.
All that has earned Maine the CHN Team of the Week honors.
Maine (21-10-1, 14-8-1 HEA) was off the NCAA bubble until this weekend, but has now surpassed Boston College in the Pairwise and are looking good for an NCAA spot. The schedule is also in the Bears' favor, with games at Merrimack and two at home against Massachusetts to finish the regular season. They are looking at a possible 3 or 2 seed in the Hockey East tournament, which would mean facing either Vermont or Massachusetts-Lowell, most likely, in the quarters.
Along the way, one stalwart has been captain Greg Moore. Moore by-passed an opportunity to sign an NHL contract with the Rangers last summer to fulfill what he felt was his responsbility as team captain. He has done that and "more," leading the team with 22 goals and an enormous amount of leadership. He has been hot lately, scoring 10 goals in the last 12 games.
Leveille, meanwhile, has a 12-game point-scoring streak, and is playing as well as he ever has. And the penalty kill has never waned — it is ranked No. 1 in the nation with a 91.0 percent efficiency. Against Boston College this past weekend, it went 10-for-10, and Moore was named Hockey East's Defensive Player of the Week, for being a key member of that unit.
The defense still generally backbones things, with senior Steve Mullin leading the way. Another senior, Travis Wight, has made a huge improvement this season, and that has also benefitted the unit. Then you have 17-year old Simon Danis-Pepin, at 6-foot-7 one of the tallest and youngest players in college hockey. He has come along slowly, but is playing pretty well when he's gotten recent chances. Sophomores Travis Ramsey and Tyler each provide their own unique aspect to the 'D.'
Of course, Maine could still go the other way. It has just a one-point lead on New Hampshire and Providence for third place. And despite the seemingly easy last four games, experience shows that nothing is certain.