The Other Guys
Depth Leading Surge from Maine
by Joe Meloni/CHN Staff Writer
BOSTON Spencer Abbott's Hobey Baker campaign began some time ago. The senior, the first line left wing for Maine, has amassed quite the resume in the first 25 games of the 2011-12 season. With points in 18 of Maine's 25 games and 11 multi-point games part of his 13 goals and 27 assists this season, the chance of at least one Black Bear making the trip to Tampa, Fla., in April grows greater with every weekend.
Abbott's personal dominance of Hockey East began as soon as the season did. The Black Bears, as a group, experienced a decidedly different fate earlier in the year. At 3-6-1 through their first 10 games, the Black Bears revealed one of their greatest weaknesses — a lack of proven depth. With Abbott, senior Brian Flynn and winger Joey Diamond thriving as Maine's top line, despite Diamond's early season discipline problems, the nine other forwards Maine coach Tim Whitehead shaped into three lines each night failed to contribute consistently.
Whitehead expected depth scoring to trouble Maine to an extent this year. He also knew at some point, some combination would stick when it hit the wall properly.
In its weekend series with first-place Boston University, Maine received one goal from its vaunted top line. In the first month-and-a-half of the season, that likely would've meant two losses for the Black Bears. Instead, Maine swept the Terriers in Boston for the first time since 1992 on the back of two goals from freshman John Parker and one each from forwards Adam Shemansky and Mark Anthoine and defenseman Nick Pryor.
Friday night, Maine defeated BU, 4-2. The fourth goal came with BU goaltender Kieran Millan pulled and was the lone score from either Abbott, Flynn or Diamond on the weekend. In the first game of the series, Shemansky tied the game, 1-1, with a slap shot through Millan after a superb backcheck. Anthoine leveled the game-winning goal that night, battling with a BU defenseman for position in front of Millan before redirecting a shot from Abbott into the net.
"The power play has been our go-to offensive threat this year," Whitehead said. "We didn't feel, at the start of the year anyway, that we would have that, but it's developed. It does take pressure off the power play when you get some hard-working goals like that — after the first shot, rebounds."
The following evening was more of the same, with Parker banging a rebound home to give Maine a 1-0 lead with 6 seconds remaining in the first. After BU tied it, Pryor scored the first goal of his collegiate career with a blistering slap shot from the high slot.
Aside from Anthoine and Shemansky, junior Matt Mangene's contributions have been among the most timely for the Black Bears. His lone goal in the sweep of BU iced the latter two points, as he slid a puck into an empty net, sealing the win and sending Maine back to Orono having extended its current winning streak to four. Beyond that, this new-found depth has propelled the Black Bears through the last 14 games — a 10-2-2 stretch that has them third in Hockey East and in a comfortable enough position in the PairWise.
"(Production from everyone) is something that we need. We have guys like (Flynn) and Abbott that are scoring consistently for us, but when you get goals from guys that aren't always scoring, it's a big boost for the team," Pryor said after Saturday's win. "It takes the pressure off (the top line) to see other guys scoring. (Abbott, Flynn and Diamond) feel like they have a lot of pressure to score. But, when you get contributions from everyone — four lines, six defensemen — it makes it a lot easier on them. And it's definitely a lot easier to play as a team that way."
Maine's current run picked up in the first weekend of December, with a pair of wins at Vermont. In those games, Abbott recorded nine points. However, the production from other sources started at that point as well.
Mangene has scored eight of his nine goals on the season in Maine's last 14, including a pair of game-winners — Nov. 26 in a win over Clarkson and last weekend in overtime against Boston College.
Anthoine's performance trended upward as well around this time. In his last 16 games, the sophomore has scored nine goals after beginning the season without a goal in nine games. The list goes on for Maine, with Shemansky and junior center Kyle Beattie forming a prolific partnership as part of Maine's bottom six forwards.
"It's been a big factor in the last two months. We're starting to get scoresheets like this where other guys are on there in key games. It's great to see that, and, obviously, to see John Parker scoring both nights was big," Whitehead said. "Nick (Pryor) getting the big goal, and Mangene getting another one is very important. It's taken some time for them to emerge, and I'm really happy that they are emerging in a lot of ways."
The Black Bears get an unlikely late season respite from Hockey East play next weekend, welcoming Alabama-Huntsville to Orono for two. The grind continues, though, with road games at Providence and UMass Lowell slated for the following weekend.
"We have to keep focusing on one weekend at a time. It's been about two months now, so I think we're pretty happy that we've been able to sustain it," Whitehead said. "We've just got to stay healthy now down the stretch. If we do that, keep working hard, stay focused and playing as a team, we'll have an opportunity to win … These are some big points for us, but the mission's not complete."
As the season approaches its conclusion, Maine, now, believes it can compete for a league championship. Following Saturday's win over BU, Whitehead compared these last two weekends, sweeps of both BC and BU, to the Black Bears' run in the 2010 Hockey East Tournament, where they took eventual national champion BC to overtime before falling, 7-6, in the league championship game.
That year, with names like Gustav Nyquist and Tanner House leading the way, it was players like goaltender Dave Wilson, winger David de Kastrozza and a freshman by the name of Joey Diamond emerging to bring Maine within a goal of its first Hockey East Championship since 2004. Whitehead knows this club can get back there and bring Maine a conference title and the chance to play for a national championship. Led by Abbott and his linemates, Maine looks ready to challenge for any hardware its eligible for. After these last 14 games, though, it's not just Abbott, Flynn and Diamond opponents have to worry about.