Boston College travels to one of college hockey's legendary venues on Saturday night for a one-off tilt with the University of Maine Black Bears. Alex Quirk of the UMaine Hockey Beat helped us preview the game.
BCI: It looks like Maine is off to a pretty decent start in Red Gendron's first year. How would you say they've performed relative to the fan base's expectations so far?
Well I can’t speak for every Black Bears fan, but the general consensus is that Maine’s performing better than expectations. When you look at what happen to Maine last year, everyone came in with low exceptions, right about where the Hockey East Preseason poll had them (8th). But the only thing is that Maine hasn’t played a rather tough opponent, like BC, Lowell, Providence, or ND yet. So there’s no indication if these Black Bears will show up against the better teams, but beating BU was a step in the right direction.
BCI: Have there been any noticeable changes in style so far under the new coach?
Yes there has, Red Gendron is someone who commands respect from his players. Gendron’s style is he expects the best out of his players, and if they screw up, they’re gonna take a seat next to coach Red on the bench. He has a tendency to stick with the same forward lines when the team is winning, but after losses he shuffles things up. My theory is that Red’s philosophy is if it ain’t broke, don't fix it. His decision to stick freshmen on lines together has been a great strategy, the freshmen have been a great success for Maine. Maine is less of a dump-and-chase team than last year, not that they don’t do the dump-and-chase, but it’s not Red’s style, he wants players to carry the puck into the zone. A questionable choice that I’ve seen has been Martin Ouellette starting all 10 games so far, we keep waiting to see him get a night off and have Dan Sullivan play, but it remains a mystery to when we’ll see someone else. I expect Ouellette to make his 11th start against BC.
BCI: There are freshmen and sophomores all over the top of the scoring list for Maine so far. What have some of the newcomers brought to the table to this point?
They bring a new energy and with that talent as well, without the aura of years past. While the sophomores were here during last year’s down season, they’ve been able to shrug it off and move on. In addition having Devin Shore (So.) an assistant captain, which was well earned, helps bridge the gap between some of the disconnect between the veterans and the freshmen. Devin Shore and Ben Hutton continue to stand out among those in the sophomore class, they worked well together and do well on the powerplay as Hutton’s three powerplay goals all came from an assist from Shore.
The freshmen really have been the difference makers for Maine without a doubt. The Morgan-Brown-Byron line has been a deadly combination producing almost 1/3 of Maine’s scoring so far this year. On the defensive side, the Renouf-Schurhamer pairing has been great even though their stats don’t jump off the page. They do a great job defending the point keeping pucks in the zone, even on the very edge of the blue line, they’re able to keep the play alive. They don’t make it easy for opponents to clear the puck zone. Other freshmen Josh Henke and Brady Campbell haven’t exactly been given many opportunities to shine.
BCI: In their last game, Maine completely pasted BU, 7-0. We enjoyed that quite a bit. What happened in that one? ("BU is really bad" would be a perfectly acceptable answer, but feel free to elaborate.)
Maine came in after their disappointing 4-3 loss to Vermont in which they gave up four unanswered goals. Coach Gendron wasn’t happy with their performance, the fact that they got one goal and eased off after that showed that they weren’t playing the full 60 minutes. That wasn’t the case against BU, Maine got some bounces early like Shore’s goal which was a bad shot that went through the equipment of Maguire, Leen added a 5-on-3 PP goal with 6 seconds left in the first. Ben Hutton’s 5-on-3 SH goal just deflated BU’s confidence as they couldn’t recover. Maine didn’t let up on BU flexing their offensive muscle by scoring four more times. I wouldn’t necessarily say BU is really bad, but Maine got the bounces to go their way early on, then they ran away with it. Marty was phenomenal as he’s been all year, he made some key saves to keep BU out of it. Maine’s a good team with lots of talent, it’s just the consistency to play that 60 minutes without slacking off after scoring, that’s what I saw on Friday night. They ran into a BU team that’s in the middle of a losing streak (thanks for softening them up before they played us btw) and Maine took advantage. Maine showed hustle and were rewarded for their effort with a victory.
BCI: What are the keys to beating Maine? (Don't worry, we won't tell anyone.)
1) While it’s hard to do I'd say getting under Maine’s skin, this team is very disciplined. I say it’s hard because this team is 55/59 in the country in penalty mins/game. But there are a few hotheads on this team, Jake Rutt is the best example. While I hate to bash Rutt cause he’s from my hometown, I’ve referred to him at times as a disciple of Joey Diamond, he takes dumb penalties at times and is the co-leader in penalties on this team, it’s very fortunate that he hasn’t costed his team yet.
2) Don’t give Maine many PP opportunities, teams will commit penalties regardless, it’s just the number of penalties is key. Maine is a great PP team, PP goals have been a big portion of Maine’s offense so far, so don’t give them those chances. Maine’s even strength is okay, though against BU their 5-on-5 played better. Staying disciplined against Maine, Ryan Lomberg is great at getting opponents penalized.
3) Get the crowd out of it as soon as possible, Maine relies on the student section to create that deafening sound that makes it one of the best home-ice advantages in Hockey East, and even college hockey. Scoring early and often will get the crowd out of it will be a key.
BCI: I noticed that Maine and UMass played a non-conference series against one another in addition to their regular two conference games. How do you feel about that? How are you feeling about realignment generally in year one?
I mean I’m not a big fan of playing conference teams in non-conference games, but with the reduction of seven conference games, some teams needed to find teams to play, and with this Maine team not as good as it has been, this is gonna happen. We’re at a time when we can’t get North Dakota, or other perennial powers to come to Orono or vice-versa. So Maine’s forced into these games it’s annoying but it happens, maybe in the future we can participate in this Big Ten/Hockey East challenge. It’ll be better in the future, Maine’s having a home-and-home with UNH where they play a games in Portland, Maine and Manchester, NH that are non-conference.
In terms of realignment, it’s hard to say but I think it’s for the better in the sport. I’ve been more outspoken about how realignment in college football has ruined everybody else in college sports, college hockey has suffered this effect. It’s nice to have Notre Dame in Hockey East as it’ll guarantee games like BC-ND will happen every year. But out west it’s hard to say, the WCHA/CCHA schools that aren’t Big Ten programs get a raw deal because they support from those big schools. I think overall it’s good for college hockey, having these national TV deals gives it more exposure to the great game of college hockey. These unique conference challenges are fun and makes non-conference play better to watch.
7. Any predictions for Saturday's game?
I’ve been bad with predictions, but here it goes. BC will without a doubt give Maine much more of a challenge than what BU gave them. The Black Bears haven't played an upper-echelon team in Hockey East and I don’t think Maine will have an easy time handling BC. In terms of a historical aspect, Maine has had BC’s number, over the last couple years. The Alfond crowd will be packed as it’s slowly filling up again, so the crowd noise will be there. As much as it pains me, I’m picking BC, the score 3-2. However if Maine won it wouldn’t be shocking as has played very well at home so far this season.