Maine Preview: So Many Miles, So Few Conference Points

After a pair of tough losses on the road against nationally-ranked Hockey East teams (including Lowell, although nobody else seems to have any trouble beating them this year curiously), the Minutemen proved to us last week that they can beat, and even roll, over a bad team on home ice. Now they head back on the road for a much weaker foe than they opened against, with some confidence under their belt, for some conference pl—I’m sorry, what’s that you say? These are more nonconference games against a Hockey East team and we’re still stuck in last place, technically, for at least one more week. Well alrighty then.

The Minutemen actually had a pretty good stretch of dominance over the Black Bears while I was at UMass, but unfortunately that has subsided in the last few years as Maine has gone 5-2-3 in the last 10 meetings. Last year they tied in the only meeting in Orono, 2-2, then split a pair in Amherst, with a 2-0 Maine win followed by a 5-2 UMass triumph. This will start four straight meetings between the two teams, and the last time they played four consecutive games against one another was…oh yeah, that’s right: the 2006-2007 season, when they met for the final two of the regular year, then the last two home playoff games at the Bill. That was my freshman year, so obviously it’s been all downhill from there, but I recall a good time being had by all. The name “Wilson” was tossed around just a couple times.

So far this year, former UMass assistant Red Gendron has the Black Bears off to a 1-2-0 start, with two losses at St. Lawrence followed by a 2-1 win at home against Bentley. Not exactly inspiring stuff. Junior Stu Higgins has two goals (both in just one game!), but nobody stands out on offense in that small a sample. Senior Marc Anthoine brings most of the returning offense, with 18 career goals, including one this year (though his plus/minus is a team-worst -5). Devin Shore was the team’s leading scorer last year, at six goals and 20 assists, but he’s been held off the board thus far this year. This is a young bunch of Black Bears, with a lot of unfamiliar names now that noted punk Joey Diamond won’t be walking through that door. Mike Cornell, one of their better defensemen, is also gone. Really, the anchor that Maine retains is the senior between the pipes, Martin Ouelette, who brings a career 2.69 GAA and .904 save percentage to the table. Then again, it wouldn’t be the most shocking thing ever to see senior backup Dan Sullivan get a start, especially given that these games don’t count in the conference standings and, since Maine will not be watching the Pairwise rankings with any sort of intent this season, these games thus carry much less meaning.

UMass, of course, is in a similar boat for the time being. But an impressive showing in these next two weekends against a team in a similar rebuilding phase could be the springboard towards the “shock the world” season we’ve all been waiting for them to accidentally meander into for years now. Or, if nothing else, at least make us not look like doofuses in front of national TV audiences on Friday (NBC Sports) and Saturday (FCS Atlantic…opposite the World Series…you know what, forget I said anything). Likewise, if Wakaluk found himself making his first career start this weekend, giving Mastalerz a breather in anticipation of the much more important series at the Bill next week, don’t be surprised. That’ll probably happen on Saturday, which is one of those tree falling in a forest conundrums because it’s hard to picture much of a turnout at Alfond (or Mullins, to be fair) during a Red Sox World Series game, but honestly, that might not be the worst way to break him in.

Anyway, it’s time to get some sleep, in my sadness over the Sox losing tonight I’ve stumbled upon an MTV reality show which I swear is being hosted by a third Marcou brother. Halp. (Seeya after the weekend.)

– Max

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