ORONO - At 5-foot-8, Joey Diamond is never the biggest player on the ice. He’s nearly always the smallest.
Sometimes that works to his advantage, such as when the opposing team is trying to break out of its own zone and makes the mistake of overlooking Diamond.
It happened last weekend against Providence, which blew a two-goal lead in the third period Friday night on a pair of Diamond tallies to tie it, and again on Sunday, when Maine’s senior tri-captain scored twice more, the second in overtime to give the University of Maine men’s hockey team its first victory of the season at Alfond Arena after 12 previous contests had yielded eight losses and four ties.
“To get our first win at home this late in the season, and to win in overtime, that makes it extra special,” Diamond said after a recent workout. “But it’s something that, that game is behind us. We are looking forward to (Saturday night) in Vermont.”
The Black Bears (8-14-5 overall, 4-9-5 Hockey East) left campus Thursday night in order to beat the blizzard to Burlington. At the end of November, Vermont (7-14-4, 4-10-4) traveled to Orono and went 1-0-1 at Alfond.
Although only a point separates them in the Hockey East standings, eighth-place Maine and ninth-place Vermont are on different trajectories. The Black Bears have climbed out of the conference cellar and into the final playoff berth with a four-game unbeaten streak that includes a road sweep of first-place Boston College and the overtime victory against sixth-place UMass-Lowell.
The Catamounts, meanwhile, have lost six of seven since the end of December.
“We’re definitely a different team than the last time we played them,” said Diamond, pointing to the development of Maine’s underclassmen and freshmen. “They have adjusted their game and they’ve been doing a great job contributing. They’ve definitely been keys to our success in the second half so far.”
As have the emergence of junior goaltender Martin Ouellette, recently named Goaltender of the Month for Hockey East, and the resurgence of Diamond, who has six goals in his past five games for a squad that still ranks 58th in scoring (1.78 goals per game) among the 59 Division I college hockey programs.
With a little more than a minute left in overtime on Sunday, Diamond lingered near the blue line as Lowell attempted to make a rush up the ice. Reading a centering pass from the boards, Diamond stepped up, kicked his right skate in the path of the puck, and caught up to it inside the left circle, with nothing but clear ice between him and Lowell goaltender Doug Carr. Gliding across the goal mouth and heading for the far post, Diamond braked to a sudden stop, leaned back to his left and swept the puck past Carr before tripping over the goalie, who ended up on his keister with his stick on top of the cage.
Diamond quickly returned to his feet and raced to a corner of the rink before being mobbed by his teammates as the home fans finally, for the first time since the season began Oct. 6th, could properly celebrate the end of a game.
“It was a great feeling,” Diamond said. “I mean, every time you score at The Alfond, it’s a thrill. But especially scoring in overtime; that’s something I haven’t done at Maine.”
Since Christmas, the Black Bears are 6-3-3, a stretch that includes seven of Diamond’s 10 goals. It was during the week before Christmas that Diamond had a chance to return home to Long Beach, N.Y., for the first time since Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on New York and New Jersey.
As a barrier island on the southern coast of Long Island, Long Beach was hit particularly hard, but Diamond said the damage to his home’s basement paled in comparison to that sustained by neighbors who lost homes, cars and other property.
“There’s still plenty of damage down there,” he said. “Obviously it’s a little better, but people are still not back in their homes. It’s going to take a while for a lot of people to get back on their feet.”
When asked if there could be a parallel between Long Beach and Orono, if the storm damage helped him gain a measure of perspective on a hockey season filled with frustration, Diamond raised his eyebrows.
“I don’t think it changed me in any way personally,” he said. “It makes you look at life a little different, I guess. But I’m not affected as much as people who were there. I can’t say it gave me more motivation to come back and that’s why we’re winning, no.”
No, the Black Bears are winning now because they’re better than they were in the first half. Their hard work and diligent practice is paying off.
“It’s not about how you start a season,” Diamond said. “It’s how you end it.”
Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: