ORONO — Last weekend was a study in contrasts for the University of Maine men’s hockey team.

This weekend will be a challenge for the Black Bears.

After splitting a pair of games in their opening weekend against Merrimack and Northeastern, the Black Bears go on the road to face North Dakota, ranked sixth in the nation in both national polls.
In last Friday’s 2-1 loss to Merrimack, the Black Bears (1-1) believed they put forth the effort but didn’t assert themselves in front of the opposing goal.

In Sunday’s 6-3 win over Northeastern, Maine captain Will O’Neill said his team brought a certain attitude and edge to its game, one that the Black Bears, ranked 17th in the USCHO.com top 20 poll, will have to sustain not just this weekend against North Dakota (1-1) but through the season.

“When we came out Friday night, we thought we were ready,” O’Neill said. “We thought we were prepared. We thought we were going to go out there and work. The effort was there Friday night, but we needed to work hard in the right areas.

“On Sunday, we had more focus and we utilized our hard work and our tenacity. It’s very difficult to sustain that in sports, but that’s what good teams do. Good teams show up every night and very rarely do they lay an egg. That’s where we want to be.”

The Fighting Sioux represent that standard. The Sioux have won seven national championships and when they face the Black Bears at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, N.D., will return 14 players from last year’s team that reached the Frozen Four, losing 2-0 to Michigan in a national semifinal.

“They’re going to be big and really talented,” Maine center Kyle Beattie said. “They’re always a top-five, top-10 team in the country, but we’re preparing the same way we prepare for anyone. We’re focusing on our own systems and our own game plans.”

The Black Bears also will have to contend with North Dakota’s size. The bulk of the Sioux’s roster is at least 6 feet tall, including 6-foot-4 forward Brock Nelson, who scored eight goals and 13 assists last season, and 6-5 defenseman Derek Forbort.

“Boxing out and being in the proper position, it’s very important,” Maine Coach Tim Whitehead said.

“A 6-foot-3 kid gets inside position at the net front, there’s not much you can do after the fact to stop him except maybe take a penalty. And we don’t want that. On the flip side, offensively, when they’ve got some big rigs back there protecting their net, you have to get in there quick and when you get inside them, they have to take the penalty on you. The net-front at both ends is definitely going to be key.”

But the Black Bears have to build on Sunday’s victory, in which they attempted 62 shots and put 40 on goal, including seven shots from high-percentage scoring areas in the third period.

“Sunday, we really weren’t taking no for an answer,” Beattie said.

“We came out a little shaky on Friday, and on Sunday we came out and threw everything at the net. We know that’s how we’re going to have to play every night. It’s not good to lose but it’s good to learn how not to play.”

Staff Writer Rachel Lenzi can be reached at 791-6415 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: rlenzi