ORONO — When Vermont visits Maine this weekend for a pair of Hockey East games between programs that have but four victories between them, much is uncertain.
Will the Black Bears, who rank above only Alabama-Huntsville in goals per game among Division I college hockey teams, find their scoring touch?
Will the Catamounts, whose 1.64 goals per game average is third from the bottom, be similarly frustrated?
Will Maine’s power play, currently ranked dead last with three goals in 56 chances, finally click?
Will feisty Maine senior Joey Diamond avoid the penalty box both Friday and Saturday nights?
Actually, there’s not much mystery to that fourth query. Diamond is Maine’s all-time leader in penalty minutes, having accumulated more than six hours of consequences during his four years as a Black Bear.
“It’s just a function of the style of play that I play,” said Diamond, who moved past Prestin Ryan on the career list after getting sent off the ice three times in Maine’s most recent game, a 2-2 overtime tie with UMass two weeks ago at Alfond Arena.
“I play on the line and sometimes I cross it, and that’s basically it.”
A year ago, Diamond led Maine in goals with 25 and scored 11 of them on the power play, which tied for the national lead. He also had 22 assists and was a semifinalist for the Walter Brown Award, given each year to the top American-born college hockey player in New England.
“He wins loose pucks and he gets under people’s skin,” Maine coach Tim Whitehead said. “He does that better than just about anybody I’ve ever coached. He’s physical. He drives the net. He blocks shots on the defensive side, and he can score.”
But not, of course, from a seat next to the scorekeeper.
“With that (style) comes some penalties,” Whitehead said. “He’s improved his discipline over the years, just as Prestin Ryan did.”
Ryan racked up 355 penalty minutes in a three-year career at Maine but wound up an all-American and a senior captain, same at Diamond. Ryan also reached the NHL with Vancouver and currently plays professionally in Germany.
“Prestin, like Joe, took some time to get that competitive edge under control,” Whitehead said. “Last year was a great evidence of how far he can go when he keeps that under control. It was impressive. The season he had was exceptional.”
This year, Diamond doesn’t have the luxury of playing alongside Spencer Abbott and Brian Flynn, who wound up with 41 and 30 assists, respectively. Matt Mangene, who was fourth on the team in scoring, gave up his final year of eligibility in order to turn pro with Abbott and Flynn.
“Joe’s putting a lot of weight on his shoulders to carry all the mail,” Whitehead said. “And that’s difficult for any player, even an elite player like Joe.”
Through 11 games — he sat out the second Lowell game with a back issue — Diamond has one goal and three assists.
“This year, I’m a captain and I have to lead the team in different ways,” Diamond said. “Show the freshmen how things are done or what you have to do in certain situations. Also, I need to contribute and put pucks in the net. It’s definitely a different role from last year, but I’m going to do the best I can to fulfill that role.”
Diamond said his style hasn’t changed since his Pee Wee days growing up on Long Island in New York. He describes it as a blue-collar style.
“Don’t give anyone an inch and play hard,” he said. “That’s really it.”
The Maine rosters lists Diamond at 5-foot-8 and 175 pounds. That weight is probably on the generous side, but neither measurement hints at the size of Diamond’s heart.
“Pound for pound, without a doubt, he’s the toughest player I’ve ever coached,” Whitehead said. “He’s one of the few players we have who gets to the net and plays with the courage you need to win loose pucks on a consistent basis. We don’t want him to disarm him completely, because he won’t be an effective player.”
So the whistles will keep coming, Diamond will continue to push the limits, do whatever he can to help his team, and if that lands him in the box, so be it.
“It’s not something you really want, but it’s something that happened,” he said. “As for being the career penalty minutes leader at Maine, that’s probably something that, down the line, I’ll look back on as something that’s pretty cool to have.”