UMaine Black Bears Tame Dalhousie Tigers, 5-1.
College hockey was back in action this weekend, with exhibition games taking place across the country. The University of Maine men started the season by hosting Dalhousie University of Nova Scotia. In a game that many Maine fans have anticipated since the firing of longtime coach Tim Whitehead, a 5-1 win was exactly what was asked for.
New coach, Dennis "Red" Gendron, sure made an impression. As my friend and I waited to enter Alfond Arena- entering as we normally do, through the student side of the Alfond- a crazy thing happened- Red Gendron came and addressed the crowd of students. His voice is big and booming, his hair a shock of white. He spoke to the crowd and to individual students and he began the path to endearing himself to the cynical fans of the University of Maine hockey program. It was the right move and I heartily approve of his actions.
The student section overflowed, but the regular fans were a bit sparse. We can attribute it to the game being on a Sunday, during a Patriots' game, to only be an exhibition game, and then add in the very realistic fact that many fans lost their desire to be part of a dying program, so gave up their season tickets. All real factors.
The game started and immediately there was a difference. Gone was the "dump and chase" system put in place by Whitehead, no more 3 men back. There was aggression. Strong passing, checking, shots on goal. The Black Bears didn't make unnecessary passes, but took shot after shot, got rebounds, maintained offensive zone pressure, pinched at the corners. They were everywhere and were reading their teammates in a way I haven't seen for years. The kept the puck in the zone, passed low, set up plays, cycled the puck around, worked it in on net.
The style of play was so different from what we have seen the past twelve years that I cannot help but be excited.
The goal scoring was spread out, with five different players scoring. Ryan Lomberg, who's hair is currently longer than mine and I have to say that it's a little early in the season for such advanced hockey flow, struck first, early in the first period.
Andrew Cerretani tallied the second goal on a rebound (one of my biggest complaints last year was that nobody was battling for rebounds- second goal of the game on a rebound makes me very happy).
Connor Leen scored goal number three with a 5 on 3 power play goal. A good team always capitalizes on a 5 on 3 power play. The University of Maine has not been very good on scoring on these plays for a very long time. To see the first one of the year result in a point is already a marked improvement.
After a lack luster second period where the Black Bears had 10 minutes worth of penalties, I was a little concerned that we were reverting back into the Black Bears of the past. Now that I revisit the box score, I see that we still held them to only 4 shots for the period.
Dalhousie got a lucky with a power play goal on a breakaway from Chris Ivanko early in the third period, but after that, the Black Bears went into shut down mode. Cam Brown scored the fourth Black Bear goal by battling to the crease. Steven Swavely finished the scoring by tallying their fifth goal on a redirect of a Dan Renouf shot.
Lets talk defense for a second. In the midst of all the scoring, Maine killed off a 5 on 3 late in the first period. Later in the game, Brice O'Connor, a wild card Captain, proved his is worth the "C" when he made an outstanding play from the net. Dalhousie shot on goalie, Martin Ouellette, and got a lucky bounce. Instead of gaining the point, O'Connor dove behind Ouellette and knocked the puck clear. It was a move that reminds me of a Mike Lundin clear from days of old. It was an amazing play that showed heart and guts. There was a very cool moment between O'Connor and Ouellette after the play, which had drawn a whistle. A smile, helmet tap and a chant from the students. It was perfect.
I will admit that it is early and that we are rebuilding a team from the basement up, and that last night was just an exhibition. It was the best game I have seen at Alfond Arena in a very long time. I am EXCITED about UMaine Hockey again. The fast pace, the aggressiveness, it is everything opposite from the last Era (perhaps I should say ERROR) of Black Bear Hockey. It is just what we needed. I can't wait to listen to the game next weekend! The Black Bears take on St. Lawrence on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 11 and 12.