The University of Maine hockey team opened its schedule in October with two ties disguised as wins, a pair of pulsating games that seemed to show promise for the season ahead.

But those Ice Breaker Tournament games at Portland’s Cross Insurance Arena also revealed two major problems.

In a 3-3 draw against Michigan State, Maine took 11 penalties and surrendered all three goals while a man down. In the 1-1 deadlock with North Dakota the next night, Maine was undone by a punchless offense. In both games, the Black Bears “won” the shootouts that were held for tournament purposes only, sending fans spilling into downtown streets feeling like they had something to celebrate. But there was very little celebrating during the rest of the season’s first half, which ended with Maine holding a 4-9-4 record.

The second half of the season begins Tuesday in the same arena, this time against rival New Hampshire. The teams meet again Wednesday in Manchester, New Hampshire.

“We know we have a lot more to give and there’s no excuse, so hopefully we can come back big against UNH in the second semester,” Maine center Cedric Lacroix said after his team lost 5-2 to the Wildcats on Dec. 5.

“If we want to be successful, we can never be satisfied, whether that’s our conditioning, whether that’s the way we play in our defensive zone, whether that’s scoring goals.”

Scoring goals has been the biggest challenge for the Black Bears, who rank last among the nation’s 60 Division I teams with 1.82 per game. After that opening-night outburst against Michigan State, Maine scored a paltry eight goals in its next 10 games. Not surprisingly, the Black Bears didn’t win any of them.

Compounding problems was that the team’s propensity to take penalties never abated. Maine was whistled for 104 of them in the first half of the season, the sixth-highest total in the nation.

Special teams have not been a strength. Maine ranks 56th on the power play with a 10.6 percent conversion rate. The Black Bears are 40th on the penalty kill, escaping unscathed 80.5 percent of the time they put themselves at a disadvantage.

The bright spot for Maine came just before the players took three weeks off for the holidays, during a 4-1-1 stretch in which the offense started to achieve a better flow. It also helped that the competition wasn’t as stiff. That stretch came against Vermont, Princeton and New Hampshire.

Coach Red Gendron assembled a top line of center Cam Brown, and forwards Blaine Byron and Steven Swavely that has been an impetus. Defensemen Dan Renouf and Rob Michel started to chip in offensively. And lines centered by Will Merchant and Lacroix started to find some footing.

It took weeks for the results to come, however. And Gendron said the key was the fact that his players never lost faith.

“The dividends didn’t pay out until more recently and that was the challenge for our kids to remain positive, to keep believing that if they stuck with it and stuck with the things we were asking them to do, and executing in exactly that right way, then eventually they would start scoring,” Gendron said. “What you pay attention to shall grow, and it doesn’t always grow fast enough for those on the outside looking in. But those of us who are on the inside know that that is the only way.”

Maine has gotten solid goaltending from junior Matt Morris and freshman Rob McGovern. Morris ranks 19th in the nation with a .928 save percentage; McGovern is 24th at .915. So it will be incumbent on the offense to put up goals while staying out of the penalty box for Maine to achieve a second-half turnaround. The schedule also is favorable. After New Hampshire (6-6-4), Maine hosts Colgate and Connecticut. Another 4-1-1 stretch is certainly achievable.

Lacroix, a 6-foot-1, 183-pound sophomore, remains confident. He scored goals in both games against New Hampshire (a 3-3 tie at home before the loss in Durham) by planting his big body to the left of the crease and deflecting pucks into the net. He has been centering senior Andrew Tegeler (6-1, 187) and freshman Daniel Perez (6-4, 205).

“It’s all about reloading over the puck and getting some traffic in front of the net. We’re three big bodies and we can get the puck to the net in traffic,” Lacroix said.

“This (loss to UNH) is not a setback. This is just a reminder that we have a lot of work to do. It’s part of the process. We’re not going to go undefeated for the rest of the season so you can’t say one game is a setback. You’ve got to keep plugging away.”