Friday, October 22, 2010
MAINE - NORTH DAKOTA PREVIEW
Upon the goal horn sounding to announce the end of the 2009-10 season at the TD Garden last March, optimistic UMaine fans looked to this weekend’s series as the marquee match-up for the Black Bears this season.
This Friday signifies a hockey revival in Orono that had been absent in the last few years. Fans are back to filling the Alfond instead of leaving it a cavernous arena, like it was in 2008 when the Black Bears failed to make the Hockey East playoffs, only the second time in the program’s history. Though after a magical run that left Maine within an overtime goal of winning the Hockey East playoffs, and earning a bid to the NCAA tournament, Maine is again proud of its hockey program.
The pucks drops at 7:30 p.m. this Friday as the second ranked team in the nation, the North Dakota (NoDak) Fighting Sioux, take on the slow out of the gate Black Bears. This two game series represents a chance to impress the polls and position Maine for a NCAA playoff berth, regardless of the outcome of the Hockey Playoffs come March. At the beginning of the season, this series was deemed one that Maine should split, but this sentiment has slowly evolved into a series Maine must split.
After putting up eight goals against the hapless River Hawks from UMass-Lowell, Maine tied Atlantic Hockey Association cellar dweller UConn the next night. Then a tough trip to Michigan State to take on the Spartans left the Black Bears with only one point from the series and a 1-1-2 record overall.
Goaltending has been the main point of emphasis for Maine this off season as they brought in two highly regarded net minders in Martin Ouellette and Dan Sullivan, but neither have impressed as a back-up to starter Sophomore Shawn Sirman. Who emerges as the man between the pipes that will lead Maine to victory is still up to debate, but the clock is slowly dwindling.
Another troubling aspect for Maine is the fact that Hobey Hat Trick finalist Gustav Nyquist still has a goose egg in the goal column. Nyquist is still producing for the Black Bears with a conference high five assists, but still that clutch goal that could give Maine the victory late still alludes him.
Orono is worried, but there still isn’t that feeling the sky is falling….at least yet. Maine does have one of the most prolific offenses in the NCAA and is led by Spencer Abbott who leads Hockey East in goals (4) and points (7).
NoDak exemplifies what college hockey is all about. They field a consistently good team every year and have won a total of seven national championships in their history. There also must be something in the water in the Dakotas as 16 players are six feet or taller. The Sioux (3-0-1) are already seem in mid-season form as they travel across the country to the Pine Tree State.
This series is the last out of conference game for Maine until the Florida College Classic against Miami in the end of December. The Black Bears need to take at least one of these games to stay in the national polls and keep the northeast buzzing. Will the Alfond mystique be enough to propel Maine to victory, or is NoDak just at another level? Sunday will bring answers, but if you want to watch the best in college hockey, make the trip to Orono this weekend. Hey, even if they get swept, you can get a free t-shirt at the Saturday game as part of the team’s White Out promotion. Can’t go wrong with a free shirt.
Bryan Stackpole is the sports director and a broadcaster for WMEB 91.9 FM, Orono, ME. He is the play-by-play voice for UMaine football, basketball, and baseball. WMEB will be broadcasting the NoDak vs. Maine hockey games on 91.9 FM and streaming live on www.wmeb.fm starting at 7:15 p.m. on Friday and 6:45 p.m. Saturday. The broadcast will be the only commercial free coverage of game.