Hockey Preview: Mercyhurst vs. Maine
Are things finally getting back to normal in Orono? It may be too soon to say but the Men’s Ice Hockey team took a step in the right direction last weekend as the Black Bears were able to defeat Minnesota Duluth and #11 Cornell to capture their sixth Florida College Classic title.
The team returns home to the frozen tundra (in comparison to Estero) that is Maine, first making their annual stop in Portland where the Black Bears will take on Mercyhurst University in the first game of a weekend set. Game two will take place at Alfond Arena in Orono. The Lakers of Mercyhurst come to Maine on a three game winning streak, winning four of their last five overall. Maine is riding their first winning “streak” of the year after two straight victories in Florida. It is the first time all season that the Black Bears have won back to back games.
A bit about the Lakers
Mercyhurst sits second in Atlantic Hockey with a 7-3-0 record in conference, 8-6-1 overall. Scoring goals hasn’t been an issue, especially on the man advantage as the Lakers travel to Maine with the sixth best power play in the country, converting 23.08% of their opportunities (15-for-65). Leading the way is sophomore forward Chris Bodo and his six power play goals, tied for most in the country. The St. Thomas, ONT native has come on strong as of late, putting up a line of 5-2-7 in his last five games, three of those goals coming on the man advantage.
Bodo isn’t the only Laker with the hot hand as sophomore forward Mathew Zay has also put up seven points in his last five games (2-5-7). Sophomore forward Daniel Bantage has tallied four goals and two assists in last five contests. Bantage and Bodo both lead the team with eight goals. Fellow sophomore and leading scorer Ryan Misiak (4-10-14) has put compiled a 1-3-4 line in his last five games. Mercyhurst has outscored their opponents 13-5 during their current three game winning streak.
The issues for this Lakers squad come on the defensive end as the team has the 51 (out of 59) ranked defense in the nation, allowing 3.20 goals a game. Senior Charlie Carlin and sophomore Grant Gettinger are the only two defenseman with a positive plus/minus rating, both at a +1. Mercyhurst gave up a season-high seven goals to American International four games ago. AIC currently has the 45 ranked offense in the country.
Goaltending has been a toss-up for the Lakers as junior Jordan Tibbett and senior Max Strang have split time in net. Tibbett comes into the weekend with a 3-3-0 record, 2.61 goals against average, and a .930 save percentage. The junior has seen time in seven contests, starting five. In his last game, Tibbett stopped 42-of-43 shots en route to a 3-1 victory over Clarkson. Strang has played in ten games, starting 9 and has put together a 5-3-0 record along with a 3.32 GAA and a .903 save percentage. The senior netminder was named Atlantic Hockey USA Travel Team Goalie of the Week for the week of Dec. 17. Strang’s last start came Dec. 18 where he stopped 37-of-39 shots in the 3-2 victory over Canisus. Do not be surprised if Tibbett and Strang split starts this weekend.
This is a young Mercyhurst squad that plays in the weak Atlantic Hockey conference but touts an effective offense and a strong power play. The Lakers brought back 23 of their 26 players from a season ago and will only graduate four seniors this upcoming spring. The heart of this team lies in it’s sophomore class and with not much roster turnover expected in the next couple of seasons, this is a Mercyhurst squad that could be making some noise in the near future.
Can the offense build off of Saturday’s performance?
The Black Bears shocked everyone Saturday night when they hung a six spot on #11 Cornell. What made it even more miraculous was that the Maine clawed back from a 3-0 deficit halfway through the first period. Mike Cornell, Kyle Beattie, Mark Anthoine, Devin Shore and Connor Leen all found the back of the net with Ryan Lomberg adding an empty netter in the end. For Lomberg, it was his second goal of the weekend as he provided the only offense in Maine’s 1-0 victory over Minnesota Duluth.
The six goals Saturday night has to come as a relief to this struggling Black Bears squad. Coming into the weekend, Maine owned the worst offense in the country, averaging a meager 1.33 goals per game, leaving the team searching for answers. In a conversation with sophomore forward Stu Higgins, he echoed the belief of his teammates when saying the offense will eventually come around, “it has to.”
So what lead to Saturday night’s outburst? It can be argued that the team’s increased physicality played a big factor. This Maine team doesn’t possess much offensive skill, at least not much that we’ve seen, so they have to rely on being the bigger, badder team on the ice. The Black Bears hit hard and hit often Saturday night, not relenting after Cornell put them in a hole early. Eventually the smash-mouth hockey wore the Big Red down and Maine was able to secure the comeback victory.Maine is going to have to capitalize on their strength and play this physical brand of hockey for the rest of the season if they have any hopes of making a run in the Hockey East tournament.
Morris firmly established as backup, scheduled to start Saturday
Martin Ouellette was fantastic in net Friday night and helped guide the Black Bears to a 1-0 shutout victory over Minnesota Duluth. The junior netminder stopped all 31 Bulldog shots, notching the second shutout of his college career.
Things weren’t as peachy Saturday night.
Ouellette was yanked at the 10:33 mark of the first period after allowing three Cornell goals on six shots.
Matt Morris, not Dan Sullivan, was called into duty and the freshman performed fantastically. The Ridgewood, NJ native stopped 22-of-23 shots in 49:27 of relief, giving his team the spark they needed to come back and secure the victory. For his efforts, Morris was named the Hockey East Pro Ambitions Co-Rookie of the Week, sharing the honor with Northeastern’s Kevin Roy.
Morris will have a chance to backup last Saturday night’s performance in Orono as he’s scheduled to get the start in game two of the weekend series. Barring a string of catastrophic performances, Ouellette will remain this team’s number one goaltender as he has consistently given Maine a chance to win on a nightly basis.
Injury bug continues to cripple Maine
Maine will be without freshman forward Connor Riley, senior forward Klas Leidermark, and junior defenseman Brice O’Connor this weekend as a new wave of injuries has struck the team. Riley and Leidermark suffered concussions in Saturday night’s victory while O’Connor sustained a shoulder injury. Nick Pryor, who missed all of last weekend with the flu, Adam Shemansky (mono), and Joey Diamond (neck) are all questionable.
For a Black Bears team that ended first semester battered and bruised, this is not the news anyone wanted to hear going into the second half. With the balance of their conference schedule in front of them, don’t be surprised if Maine plays it safe this weekend, lineup wise, against an Atlantic Hockey opponent.
If Maine can bring the physical presence shown Saturday night teamed with timely scoring, they will have a chance to beat Mercyhurst and their porous defense both nights. The Black Bears will have to stay disciplined and not let the Lakers’ effective power play get to many chances. Defensively, Maine just needs to keep trending in the right direction. Smarter play has helped this Black Bears defensive corps improve each game, that along with having confidence in their goaltender.
There’s still a large hill to climb but two wins this weekend can only point Maine in the right direction, giving them the confidence they lacked in the first half.
Remember, both of this weekend’s games can be heard online only on WMEB Plus. Coverage starts at 6:50 on Friday and 6:45 on Saturday. For a more detailed look at this weekend’s matchup, check out our By the Numbers feature.
Posted on January 3, 2013, in Men's Hockey, WMEB Sports and tagged Ben Hutton, Black Bears, College Hockey, Connor Leen, Devin Shore, Hockey East, Ice Hockey, Jake Rutt, Joey Diamond, kyle beattie, Lakers, Maine, Mark Anthoine, Martin Ouellette, Matt Morris, mercyhurst, mercyhurst hockey, mercyhurst university, Mike Cornell, Orono, Ryan Lomberg, UMaine, University of Maine, WMEB Sports. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.