ORONO — A year ago, Joey Diamond found himself on a line with Spencer Abbott and Brian Flynn, both of whom are currently playing professional hockey in the AHL.
It was a productive trio. Combined, they scored 64 goals.
Now when Diamond hits the ice, he does so with a pair of freshmen, Ryan Lomberg and Devin Shore. Neither freshman has scored. Diamond has one goal in seven games.
“It’s a different role,” Diamond said before a recent practice. “This year I’m a captain and I have to lead the team in different ways.”
The Black Bears host the two best teams in Hockey East, Boston College and the University of New Hampshire, this weekend at Alfond Arena, at a time when Maine is struggling.
Off to a 1-6-0 start, the Black Bears have played three games at Alfond, all against ECAC opponents, and have been outscored by a combined 12-2. Last weekend in their Hockey East opener in Rhode Island, they lost to Providence, 3-2 and 3-0.
“This is a very important weekend,” Diamond said. “We’re trying to sharpen up defensively, and sharpen up our whole game. No better way to test it out than (against) the two top teams in the country. We’ll definitely learn a lot about ourselves.”
The Black Bears have eight goals this season, scored by eight different players. They also have three veterans out with injuries: senior Kyle Beattie (concussion), junior Jon Swavely (torn quadricep) and sophomore John Parker (broken foot).
That means more playing time for the nine freshmen getting their first taste of collegiate hockey.
“It’s a blessing and a curse,” said senior defenseman Mike Cornell, another of Maine’s three captains. “Those (injured) guys would be significant contributors for us right now. At the same time, in the bigger picture, that’s going to help those freshmen adjust quicker. If they weren’t in the lineup, that extends the transition period.”
It is, after all, only November in a hockey season that stretches to late March, and perhaps into April for those who advance in the NCAA Tournament.
“Maybe those (freshmen) will be contributing on a regular basis in December rather than in January or February,” Cornell said. “We’ll take those improvements while we can.”
Not that there’s an alternative, of course.
“It’s obviously very frustrating,” Maine coach Tim Whitehead said, “particularly knowing that several of the injuries are not going to heal quickly.
“It’s a great challenge for us but the attitudes have been great. The players have been super at practice and working extremely hard. They’re very determined to keep improving and to fight through this adversity.”
Whitehead knew there would be bumps in the road this season, after losing not only Abbott and Flynn but also Matt Mangene (turned pro after his junior year) and Will O’Neill. Even so, solid defense, superior goaltending and a decent power play — Diamond and Mark Anthoine led the nation last year with 11 power play goals each — might have made the way easier for Maine.
Trouble is, neither the defense nor the goaltending has been stellar, and the power play is 1-for-36.
“We know what a good power play looks like,” Whitehead said. “We’ve led the league four times in the last seven years in power play (scoring) and these have not been our most talented teams. So we know we’ll get that going eventually.”
For now, he’s looking for something ugly. Something to get the ball rolling. A screened shot, a deflection, a rebound.
“Those are the kind of goals we’ve always scored, but we’ve always added some highlight-reelers to that,” he said. “I think right now we’re going to be a little shy on the highlight-reelers, for obvious reasons, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get the ugly goals.”
In goal, junior Dan Sullivan tied his career-high with 39 saves last Saturday against Providence, but he remains winless this season. Junior Martin Ouellette and freshman Matt Morris have also seen significant time in net.
“We thought our goaltending would be farther along than it is,” Whitehead said. “We think it will come around pretty quickly, but it needs to, with the inexperience we have at other positions.”
There’s a long way to go, and a victory this weekend would go a long way toward making that hoped-for progress possible.
“We’re not dwelling on this start too bad right now,” Diamond said. “But we do need to sharpen up and have better execution during games.”