February 25, 2011

Black Bears seek the right answers

The men's hockey team tries to build momentum and consistency as the Hockey East playoffs near.

By Rachel Lenzi rlenzi@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

ORONO - Has Dan Sullivan rediscovered his groove in goal?

Gustav Nyquist
click image to enlarge

Gustav Nyquist, center, enters Maine’s weekend series against Merrimack fifth in Hockey East scoring with 15 goals and 23 assists, with goals in the last six games.

The Associated Press

No. 4 MERRIMACK (21-5-4, 15-5-3 Hockey East) at No. 16 MAINE (14-10-6, 11-8-4)

WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday

WHERE: Alfond Arena, Orono

TV/RADIO: WPME (Saturday only)/WLOB (AM-1310)

MERRIMACK: The Warriors have become one of the nation's top teams and are on an eight-game winning streak, tied for second in Hockey East. The Warriors average 3.73 goals a game and goalie Joe Cannata leads Hockey East with a 2.10 goals-against average, while his team has allowed a league-low 2.13 goals a game. Merrimack forward Stephane Da Costa is sixth in Hockey East scoring with 13 goals and 23 assists but has missed the last three games as a result of a lower-body injury sustained Feb. 11 in a collision with New Hampshire's Phil DeSimone. As of Wednesday, Da Costa's status for the weekend series remained day to day.

MAINE: The Black Bears enter the weekend in pursuit of home ice in the Hockey East playoffs, which begin in two weeks. Maine is currently in fifth place in the league and with four games left in the regular season, the Black Bears also need some help in earning one of the top four spots in the league tournament. Maine enters the weekend on a three-game winning streak, including back-to-back shutouts last weekend by Dan Sullivan in wins at UMass-Lowell. Maine forward Gustav Nyquist enters the weekend series in fifth in Hockey East scoring with 15 goals and 23 assists, and has nine goals in his last six games.

DID YOU KNOW? Five seniors -- Tanner House, Jeff Dimmen, Josh Van Dyk, Robby Dee and Mike Banwell -- will be honored after Saturday's game against Merrimack. Entering the weekend, Van Dyk leads all Black Bears in games played with 134.

-- Rachel Lenzi

How will the seniors respond in their final home series of the regular season?

And, most importantly, will the University of Maine men's hockey team achieve a goal it set at the start of the season: earning home ice in the Hockey East playoffs?

All these legitimate questions surround the Black Bears, who open their final regular-season home series tonight at Alfond Arena against No. 4 Merrimack.

"We're not looking too much into it," Maine captain Tanner House said. "We're going one game at a time this weekend for us.

"With Merrimack coming in, they're ranked pretty high and they're ahead of us in the standings, so our focus is (tonight's game) against them."

The Black Bears enter the weekend series on a three-game winning streak, but plenty of elements are still up in the air, including playoff seeding. Maine earned a Hockey East playoff berth by virtue of last Friday's 4-0 win at UMass-Lowell.

"Several things would have to come through for us to host a series," Maine Coach Tim Whitehead said. "We hope that happens but we're not counting on it."

Maine is in fifth place in the conference with 26 points, five behind fourth-place Boston University and two ahead of sixth-place Northeastern. The top four teams in Hockey East each hosts a quarterfinal series. With four games left in the regular season, Maine still can finish anywhere from second place to sixth in Hockey East.

"The big thing is not to (look) too far ahead," junior defenseman Will O'Neill said. "We have a great opponent in Merrimack that's coming into our place, so for starters you try not to glance into the future.

"If we can just manage our game and try to manage our emotions for the first five minutes, then the next five minutes and ... try not to get too for ahead, I think it puts us in a good position.

"Two to six? We just want to keep playing well and the results will come when they come. If we play well, there's a good chance for anything."

Sullivan, who missed seven games with a knee injury, rebounded from a 7-2 loss to Vermont on Feb. 11 by making 49 saves in a pair of shutout victories last weekend at UMass-Lowell. He said his challenge this weekend against the Warriors is to stay resilient.

"Regardless of the outcome, you've got to have a short memory," Sullivan said. "You need to forget about last weekend or what happened."

O'Neill credited a mix of factors in both Sullivan's and the team's success last weekend.

"People are playing really well in front of him and he had an injury and (came) back stronger, and it really helped him battle," O'Neill said. "Credit to him for sticking with it and not getting too frustrated."

But House also pointed out that consistency and creating confidence will be vital for the Black Bears in their final four regular-season games, if they want to answer all those questions that are in front of them.

"You always want to be rolling a little bit when you're going into the playoffs, and playing with a lot of confidence," House said. "If you can string a few wins together, you can get that swagger a little bit and that's how you want to be in the playoffs, having that energy and confidence coming in."

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

rlenzi@pressherald. com


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