Red-Hot Maine Gears Up For Big Road Trip
Maine entered the semester break on one of its best hot streaks in recent years. The Black Bears' seven-game unbeaten streak is their longest since the 2011-12 season, and that includes four road games and one game in Northern Ireland as part of the Friendship Four tournament.
"Things are coming together a little bit," head coach Red Gendron said. "We have some depth at every position. None of our forwards are among the leading scorers in Hockey East or nationally. We have one D (Patrick Holway) who is pretty high up there, maybe seventh in the league in points-per-game for D.
"By and large, we have a lot of different guys who have scored a fair amount. We have forwards who can create and we can create form the back end more so than the past. We still need to be better defensively and we certainly have to be better killing penalties. At the same time, I'd like to see us keep developing on the power play. We can do more there. It was a nice end to the first half, no question, but we have an awful lot that has to happen for us to be great."
The Black Bears are 10-7-1, only one win shy of their total from all of last season. This season's solid first half can be attributed, in some way, to the play of freshman goaltender Jeremy Swayman.
Now with Team USA at the IIHF World Junior Championship, Swayman has a .927 save percentage as a freshman — that's the second best in Hockey East — and he's started every game since Nov. 24, posting a .933 save percentage over that stretch.
"We were aware of his talent, but as everyone knows, there's always an adjustment to college hockey," Gendron said. "We felt going into the season, between Rob (McGovern) and Jeremy, we had a couple pretty good goalies. Rob has played well. A lot of the times when he's in there our team has not been as sharp defensively or on the PK. He's eaten that in his numbers. But the truth is, Jeremy has played really well. He's among the better goalies in Hockey East statistically. Like with everything, there is a long way to go, but his play in the first half has helped us out."
Maine will test its mettle on a six-game road trip to open the second half. If you include the two games at Quinnipiac to close out the break (a sweep for the Black Bears), Maine will play eight straight road games.
The Black Bears have stood up to the test thus far, sweeping Rensselaer this past weekend and now have five wins in a row, four of which have come on the road.
Maine only had to play away from Alfond Arena on three weekends in the first half, but one of those trips was a big one, traveling overseas for the Friendship Four.
"There's no question about it, we haven't played that many games on the road," Gendron said. "But you take a trip to Ireland, that's a good-sized road trip. We had to go to Lowell, and that's not an easy trip. Then we go down to Quinnipiac, and that's not an easy trip either. Our team has some confidence playing away from Alfond, but you have to do it. We go on the road earning the right to be more confident."
Confidence is something that can resonate throughout a dressing room, particularly with a younger roster. Confidence is simply the belief you can do something, and the more young players realize that they can have success at a new level of hockey, the more success those players tend to have.
Maine's top-five scorers are either freshmen or sophomores, and the Black Bears' starting goalie is also a rookie. Maine is a young team, but they're a team that's quickly building confidence by proving what they can do.
"I don't know if confidence and success snowballs, but certain things you do that lead to success in a game is there," Gendron said. "It's still a fine line between getting results you want and being disappointed in the results. That's where the confidence piece comes into play. I don't care how confident you are, if you don't backcheck, if you don't manage the puck properly, if you don't win enough 1-on 1 battles, it doesn't matter how confident you are.
"I believe that there are only two ways you can earn confidence. The first thing is through preparation. You know you work hard enough and it resides in your self conscious. The other thing is you do do to earn confidence is knowing that you've done it before. We've done some things on the road, so we've earned the right to be confident that way. But that doesn't mean we can stop doing the little things."
After last weekend's series in Troy, the Black Bears will play games at Boston University, Brown and two games at Northeastern before returning home on Jan. 16 against Massachusetts.