Team of the Week: Maine
by Matthew Conyers/CHN Staff Writer
Before the fans at Alfond Arena had even begun to settle into their seats last Friday, Maine found its way onto the scoreboard.
The goal, a one-timer from Robby Dee, arrived just 43 seconds into the Black Bears’ contest with then-No. 2 North Dakota.
But the Black Bears were just getting started.
Maine went on to outscore North Dakota 11-5 over the two-game homestand and earn its first weekend sweep of the season after a three game-winless streak (0-1-2) against Michigan State and Connecticut the previous two weekends. Led by a five-goal first period on Friday, Maine won 7-3 and 4-2 and Brian Flynn was named the Hockey East Player of the Week after scoring three goals.
“I think coming off Michigan State [Black Bears went 0-1-1] it was a very big weekend against the No. 2 team in the country and we got a good look at what type of team we are,” junior forward Spencer Abbott said. "I think we have a very skilled offense."
The 11 goals were the most the Black Bears have scored in a weekend series since sweeping Bemidji State (13-4) in October 2006.
“As long as we don’t get ahead of ourselves after North Dakota, I think we have the depth to be one of the contenders in the nation,” Abbott said. “I think we’re a very tough team to beat.”
With its top eight scorers back, including Hobey Baker finalist Gustav Nyquist, big offensive numbers might just become the norm in Orono.
The Black Bears’ top two lines return 212 points from last season.
“Both lines have different kinds of players that really read off of each other well,” Abbott said. “We have guys that can score, that can pass, that can hit well, that can forecheck well ... there’s a lot of diversity.”
Early on, Abbott has led the Black Bears in scoring. The junior forward from Hamilton, Ontario (5 goals, 6 assists), has 11 points and has already broken a program record three weeks into the season. The school record-setting event came Oct. 22 after he scored two goals in the span of 10 seconds in a 3-2 loss at Michigan State. The previous record was set by Matthias Trattnig in 17 seconds against Northeastern on Dec. 3, 2000.
“I felt I needed to shoot the puck a lot more this season,” Abbott said. “I didn’t have quite as many shots as I wanted last season and I just wanted to change that.”
Abbott isn’t the only Black Bear to have a hot hand in the opening month. Senior forward Robby Dee (4-5) is off to his best start in a Black Bear sweater and sophomore Joey Diamond has picked up right where he left off in last year’s Hockey East tournament with 8 points (4-4). Nyquist has seven assists.
Still, maybe most notable of all the stats is the fact that the Black Bears have outscored their opponents 28-17 while watching Nyquist register just two goals all season.
Maine’s early-season success despite Nyquist low goals numbers — he did score two goals against North Dakota — speaks to its skill across four lines.
“We have four lines that can contribute and it really takes the pressure off the top two lines,” Abbott said.
The Black Bears have seen 10 players find the back of net in six games.
“Our top three lines can go against anyone in the country,” Abbott said.
It is this balance that has helped to mask Maine’s biggest question entering the season — goaltending.
But so has the play of a two young netminders.
After the dismissal of starting goalie Scott Darling for failing to follow team guidelines, the Black Bears — a typically-rich goalie program — turned the reins over to inexperienced sophomore Shawn Sirman and freshman Dan Sullivan.
The duo, which has also seen freshman Martin Ouellette play against Connecticut in a 3-3 tie, has allowed 14 goals on the year and has a 2.77 goals against average.
“I think Sirman has held up as a sophomore goalie fantastically and Dave Sullivan has been great in everything he has done so far,” Abbott said. “I think if we’re sound defensively, the goaltending will continue to fall in place.”
With its balance across the board and overall skill, Maine knows it will be seen as a threat once again to win Hockey East and make a run to the Frozen Four. And that’s fine by them.
After a three lean years, where it failed to get to the NCAA Tournament, Maine is ready to take on the pressure that comes with big a top team.
The Black Bears have no problem playing the role of favorite — again.
“It’s a lot different for the juniors and seniors this year for sure,” Abbott said. “This year we’re finally getting to play with some pressure and that is a good change.”