January 5, 2012

Hockey East Journal: 50 days of progress for Maine

By Andrew Merritt

On Nov. 17, Maine was in sixth place in Hockey East. Entering this weekend’s games, the Black Bears are in fifth.

Yet, the climb they’ve made in the last month-and-a-half goes way beyond one measly spot in the standings. 

Maine forward Brian Flynn of Lynnfield, Mass. (photo: Dave Arnold Photography)

Maine forward Brian Flynn of Lynnfield, Mass. (photo: Dave Arnold Photography)

In the 50 days since that date, Maine has gone 6-1-1, outscoring its opponents 32-20 over that stretch and picking up seven league points. The Black Bears are just four points behind first-place Boston College, with a whole lot of momentum going into Saturday’s Frozen Fenway game against struggling New Hampshire.

They’ve even picked up a trophy, having dispatched Clarkson and UMass to win the Florida College Classic last weekend.

At the heart of that momentum has been the performances of two players. Dan Sullivan has hit his stride in net; his .917 save percentage over the eight-game stretch is a huge improvement over his season-long mark, and he’s held the opposition to fewer than three goals in five of those eight games.

And, while Sullivan has held things down in net, Spencer Abbott has been at the fore of an offensive explosion for the Black Bears. Before the surge started, Abbott was tied for 11th in the league in scoring. But he’s scored six goals and dished out 12 helpers over the eight games since and now leads the league with 11-19-30 totals – that’s also second-best in the nation behind Colgate’s Austin Smith (19-12–31).

His 6-12-18 run during the surge alone would have him among the top 15 league scorers. But he’s not alone. Over the eight-game surge, 13 Black Bears have appeared on the score sheet and 12 of them have multiple points during the stretch. Right behind Abbott is Lynnfield, Mass., native Brian Flynn, who has six goals and eight assists over the eight games, and Joey Diamond, owner of six goals and five assists.

Fifty days ago, Maine was among the teams observers looked at as having down years. Now, the Black Bears are very much in the thick of things; they’re the best of the four teams playing in the Hockey East doubleheader at Fenway Park on Saturday and they’re one point out of home-ice contention for the playoffs.

Fifty days, eight games and one spot in the standings add up to a very big surge for a perennial power.

Games of the Week

UMass vs. Vermont and Maine vs. UNH, Saturday

On paper, these match-ups aren’t exactly thrillers, but the setting is what matters: Boston’s beloved ballfield, Fenway Park.

Hockey East power rankings

1. Boston College (13-7-0, 9-4-0 Hockey East) – The Eagles split their New Year’s Eve trip to the Great Lakes Invitational, falling to Michigan in the first round but taking the third place game against Michigan Tech.

2. UMass-Lowell (12-5-0, 7-4-0) – The River Hawks bounced right back after losing their last game before the break, beating RPI 7-2 in the first round of the UConn Hockey Classic and winning the tournament title with a 4-3 overtime victory over the hosts.

3. Northeastern (8-7-3, 4-7-2) – The Huskies are unbeaten in their last eight games. But that’s not the impressive part. The impressive part is what happened on New Year’s Eve, when Northeastern toppled the No. 2 team in the nation, Minnesota, to steal the Mariucci Classic out from under the Gophers.

4. Merrimack (11-3-3, 7-2-1) – The Warriors may have worked out some of the kinks they were experiencing before the break, scoring nine goals over two games to earn a 6-6 tie with St. Lawrence (won by SLU in a shootout) and a 3-0 win over Holy Cross at the Ledyard National Bank Classic.

5. Boston University (10-6-1, 8-4-1) – Hard not to think the Terriers could have used Charlie Coyle (East Weymouth, Mass.) and Corey Trivino for their visit to South Bend, where Notre Dame scored three goals in the first 7:09 of the second en route to a 5-2 win.

6. Maine (9-7-2, 6-6-1) – We looked in depth at Maine’s recent surge above, and there’s something to be said for having some hardware to show for it. They do now, having won the Florida College Classic for the second time in three seasons.

7. Providence (8-8-1, 6-4-0) – The Friars’ slowdown continued with a 5-2 loss to Brown on New Year’s Day, including the surrender of five unanswered goals as the Bears steamed past their city rival.

8. UMass (6-8-4, 2-6-3) – The Minutemen showed their wily side against Cornell on Dec. 29, knocking off the ECAC top dogs 5-2 in the opener of the Florida College Classic, but fell short against familiar foe Maine the next night.

9. New Hampshire (6-10-2, 4-7-1) – The Wildcats extended their slump to the last game of 2011, falling 5-2 on Dec. 30 to a Brown team that currently sits four points out of the cellar in the ECAC. It looks like Frozen Fenway on Saturday could end up the only highlight of the year for UNH.

10. Vermont (4-14-1, 1-10-1) – UVM finally halted its month-long winless streak in the second round of their Catamount Cup, beating Ferris State 4-2 on Dec. 30, but couldn’t gain any momentum and lost to Maine 3-1 on Wednesday.

Andrew Merritt can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com.