Maine's Struggles at Alfond Reach Bewildering Heights
by Joshua Seguin/Staff Writer
ORONO, Maine When college hockey fans think of the best environments, Alfond Arena is usually near the top of the list. With the great environment usually comes a great home advantage, but this has been far from the case this season for the Maine Black Bears.
Another great crowd packed the Alfond on Friday night against Providence, just hoping the home team would send them home happy. Maine played well, as they have most of the year, but again it struggled to score goals.
The crowd was large, the crowd was raucous and the student section was packed to capacity just waiting for a moment to burst out in cheer.
Those moments have been few, but one finally came on a shorthanded tally by Joey Diamond with seven minutes, 27 seconds remaining in the contest. That goal led to another, as Devin Shore sent a puck towards the net and Diamond tipped it in to tie the game.
Ultimately, however, it was another winless home night, as they game ended in a 2-2 tie. That left Maine with a home record, remarkably, of 0-8-4 on the season.
Last weekend, Maine shocked Boston College on the road, sweeping the series to up its record away from Alfond Arena to 7-6-1, which includes neutral site games. With a record like this away from their home rink, Maine should be in pretty good shape. But that couldn't be further from the truth.
“Part of the struggles is that we have at home is we put more pressure on ourselves because we all want to win for the home fans,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “I think that’s a bit of it but I loved the way we played (Friday).”
To put this winless home season in perspective, Maine has just once had a losing season at Alfond Arena since 2004-05, when it was 7-8-3. Being under .500 is abnormal for the Black Bears, even with the pressured environment. The fact that they are eight games under .500 is just unheard of.
“I still can’t believe that we don’t have a win up here,” said senior captain Joey Diamond. “It is just the game of hockey at times and I am sure we will get a couple wins up here. It is just the way the game is played. We have been able to play well on the road and not so well here.”
One of the mantras in Hockey East is that you need to win your home games to be successful and compete on the road stealing wins here and there. The Black Bears have done the latter to some degree, with three wins against top Hockey East schools, Boston College and Mass.-Lowell. But the home advantage, which is arguably the toughest in Hockey East, has largely eluded them on the aged season.
“I don’t think there is much of a difference playing here and on the road,” said freshman forward Devin Shore. “We tell ourselves in the room just to play hard in the room every game, regardless of where we are playing.”
When teams have a large, rabid fan base, it usually leads to a strong home advantage. But the converse is, when a team struggles, sometimes those passions can put pressure on a team, exacerbating their problems.
“I thought we were a little tentative in the first period tonight,” said Whitehead. “It was the weight of playing at home but I thought as the game went on we played with more poise. The hard work was there the whole game but it seems as though we were a little tentative in the first, not wanting to make mistakes.”
Maine technically has one win on home ice this season, but that game was not at Alfond Arena — it was two hours south in Portland, where it defeated Mercyhurst on a late goal. That game represented a microcosm of its home slate and what it hasn't done at its true home. In that game, the Black Bears scored a late goal off the stick of Ryan Lomberg to take home the win. They followed it with a loss the following night to that same Mercyhurst team at the Alfond.
“We obviously love our fans,” said Shore. “At the end of the day we just need to stick to our systems. If it’s tougher to get wins here then so be it but we don’t like it that way. We want to put on a show for our fans, but it hasn’t worked out this way.”