University of Maine goalie Matthew Thiessen excelled in his first collegiate start last Friday against New Hampshire, making 37 saves in what was officially a 1-1 tie, though the Black Bears earned an extra point in the Hockey East standings by winning a shootout. Photo provided by University of Maine athletics

The two biggest questions the University of Maine men’s hockey team needed to answer entering this season focused on goaltending and scoring.

Gone was Jeremy Swayman, the Mike Richter Award winner as college hockey’s top goalie. Gone were Mitchell Fossier and Tim Doherty, the two leading scorers from the 2019-20 Black Bears.

It’s a small sample size, but from last weekend’s season-opening series at the University of New Hampshire, both of those questions have at least been somewhat answered.

Sophomore goalie Matthew Thiessen started both games for the Black Bears. In Friday’s 1-1 tie (Maine got an extra point in a shootout), Thiessen made 37 saves, including 25 over the scoreless first two periods. In a 6-2 loss Saturday, Thiessen made 27 saves. The Wildcats’ final goal came with the Maine net empty.

“Obviously, (Thiessen) was terrific on Friday night. He was good on Saturday, also. Not as good, but he was still very good. He had an excellent weekend both nights, to be perfectly honest,” Maine Coach Red Gendron said in a Zoom session with media Wednesday afternoon.

Offensively, the biggest star of the weekend for Maine was freshman Lynden Breen, who scored his first goal 13:14 into the third period of Friday’s game. Parked in front of the net, Breen took a pass from Adam Dawe and buried the shot, tying the game just 32 seconds after the Wildcats scored for a 1-0 lead.

Saturday, Breen assisted on goals by Jacob Schmidt-Svejstrup and Emil Westerlund.

“(Breen) also played very, very well and got on the score sheet. He was a player we felt pretty strongly would be able to step in and contribute significantly right away. If the first weekend is any indication, then that’s in fact true,” Gendron said.

Thiessen, a third-round selection of the Vancouver Canucks in the 2018 NHL draft, played just seven minutes last season while backing up Swayman. Thiessen is competing for playing time this season with freshmen Victor Ostman and Connor Androlewicz. At the very least, Thiessen did enough to warrant more action, though Gendron didn’t name a starter for either game this weekend at UMass Lowell.

University of Maine freshman forward Lynden Breen skates up ice during a Dec. 11 game against New Hampshire in Durham, New Hampshire. Breen had a strong weekend series against the Wildcats, finishing with a goal and two assists in the two games. Photo provided by University of Maine athletics

“Matt’s certainly going to start again. I’m not going to tell you who’s going to play Friday night. You can ask, but I’m going to say ‘I don’t know,'” Gendron said.

Breen arrived at Maine with a reputation as a scorer. Playing junior hockey for the Fargo Force of the United States Hockey League last season, Breen led his team with 18 goals and 30 assists for 48 points in 45 games. Against UNH, Breen skated on Maine’s top line with Eduards Tralmarks and Dawe, the team’s top two returning scorers.

“We felt (Breen) would be that, but again, you don’t know until you actually play games. He demonstrated he can step in and play and be a positive factor for our team right away. That was pretty good,” Gendron said.

“I’m cautious sometimes about how effusive I am praising them publicly. I certainly don’t want players to feel additional pressure. There’s enough pressure on any athlete at a high level like this without the coach building up expectations. I’m just happy for those kids that played particularly well, and even the ones that didn’t play as well as maybe they had hoped, there was some good signs and there are things we can do to help them, and there are lots of things they can do to help themselves.”

Moving forward, Maine will look to improve its puck management. Gendron likened puck management to playing a game of 8-ball. Sometimes you don’t have a good shot to sink the 8 and win the game, but you need to get the cue ball in a spot that doesn’t help your opponent, either.

University of Maine goalie Matthew Thiessen takes off his helmet during a break last Friday’s game against New Hampshire. Photo provided by University of Maine athletics

“The same thing is true in hockey. Sometimes the right play is to put the puck in a safe place, and we didn’t do a very good job of that on Saturday night in particular,” Gendron said. “There were some pretty shaky turnovers. Obviously, we’ve addressed it. It’s not like there’s drills to do it. It’s players recognizing when the odds are in their favor to hang onto the puck and when the odds are in their favor to put it in a safe place.”

Gendron expects a pair of physical games this weekend against the River Hawks, who are ranked 15th in the poll. UMass Lowell has played one game, a 4-2 loss to Providence on Sunday.

“They have most of their team back from last year, which was obviously a very good team. They have a different goalie, just like we do. It’s going to be a battle. Whenever we play them, players tend to come out of the weekend sore,” Gendron said.

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