Maine Has Come a Long Way
by Joshua Seguin/Staff Writer
When Maine began the season 1-9-4 in Hockey East play, few gave it a chance to even make the playoffs. But Martin Ouellette and the rest of the young guys around him had other plans.
As Maine painfully labored through the first half, a change was made in net from Dan Sullivan to Ouellette. Things weren't rosy at first but the defense and goaltending did see an immediate improvement, as Ouellette gained confidence despite still losing a majority of games at first.
“Marty has been great for us,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “He is very similar to the team, as he just keeps improving. It is not an accident because he works extremely hard. He has come a long way — we got him as a true freshmen and it is a tough adjustment. But he has made the adjustment now and hes been very impressive for us. He will just keep getting better.”
“Marty has been the catalyst to our team,” said Maine captain Joey Diamond. “He is the reason we are where we are right now.”
From the freshmen like Devin Shore and Ryan Lomberg producing in a big way, to veterans like Diamond and Kyle Beattie, the turnaround for the Black Bears has been unexpected.
“I have been pretty consistent so far,” said Martin Ouellette. “The guys have a lot of confidence in me and I played well right off the start when they put me in there. It gave the guys a lot of confidence in front of me.”
“We are a pretty excited right now,” said Shore. “I am just enjoying the ride, as us freshmen know we need to just buy in. We have taken the experience from the older guys that have been here before and we are just trying to do our best to contribute, which is all that matters.”
The turnaround for the Black Bears began when they went to the annual Florida College Classic to begin the second half of the season. In that tournament, they surprised two teams that have rich histories. On the first night they defeated Minnesota-Duluth 1-0 on the back of a great 31-save performance by Ouellette; and on the second night, they overcame a 3-0 deficit to defeat Cornell, 6-4.
“We have come a long way since the start of the season when we were 2-11-2 before Christmas,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “We fought through a lot of injuries and a lot of close games, so we just want to keep playing. The coaches love coaching this group. Improving and getting better and better is what it is about. That is what we have done this year.”
Despite the turnaround, it certainly hasn't been all wonderful. Maine finished in eighth place, after all.
The next weekend Maine played Atlantic Hockey foe Mercyhurst, but the problems that plagued it before the break — mainly a lack of scoring ability — haunted the Black Bears on the second night as Mercyhurst was able to pull off the upset. The struggles from that series continued through a four-game stretch of games in conference against Northeastern and Merrimack, which saw them go 0-2-2.
But then the turnaround began in a big way, as Maine headed to of all places, Boston College.
“This team just never quits,” said Whitehead. “When things don’t come easy, there are a lot of lessons to be learned. We have learned a lot of lessons this year. This is has been especially enjoyable for our staff, and there is a lot to learn for that. We think we can play with anybody and we know we will be ready.”
It was that weekend Maine began their run toward the Hockey East tournament, sitting in last place in the standings. The Black Bears shocked one of the top teams in the country and swept the Eagles out of their own barn. Since that weekend, the Black Bears are 6-3-4 and are 4-0-1 against Boston College, UNH, Providence and Mass.-Lowell; all teams that were fighting for the top spot in Hockey East coming into last weekend.
“The guys are playing really well in front of me,” said Ouellette. “The guys are sticking to the system, paying the price and blocking shots. We could see it with our performance this weekend. When I started playing we still had struggles but we were still a good team, I saw it in practice and knew we had the potential to do something. We pulled it together and I think we are going to make some noise in the playoffs.”
Maine has proven it can beat some of the top teams down the stretch, but it has done it in different ways. The main difference between the first half and early in the second half for the Black Bears is timely scoring, timely defense, responses and timely goaltending from Martin Ouellette. All of those things they struggled with through the beginning of the year.
“The responses really show the character of this team because we aren’t letting anything get us down,” said senior forward Kyle Beattie after a Friday win against UNH. “Earlier in the year we would have allowed a goal, but now we are really comfortable with whatever we have going on.”
Maine will play top-seeded Lowell in the playoffs, a team ranked fourth in the Pairwise. The River Hawks shouldn’t look past the Black Bears; Maine actually took the season series against them.
“It doesn’t matter who we play in the first round.” said Ouellette “We are going to go out there and nothing is going to stop us from winning the series. If we play like we did (last) weekend, we will go to the Garden.”