It’s been clear for a while that the Maine men’s hockey team is on the rise. The Black Bears entered last week’s series with Boston College having won five of their first six games, with the lone setback on the road against defending national champion Quinnipiac.
Any questions as to whether Maine is for real were answered when it took 4 of 6 points against BC in front of sold-out crowds at Alfond Arena to improve to 6-1-1, and that’s where our look back at last weekend’s action begins.
Coach Ben Barr, in his third year at the helm in Orono, has been through the process of rebuilding a program before. He was an assistant on Greg Carvel’s staff when UMass went from 5-29-2 their first year in Amherst to 31-10-0 and an appearance in the national championship game just two years later.
Maine fans are hoping for a similar trajectory. The Black Bears went 7-22-4 and finished last in Hockey East in Barr’s first year, then followed with a seventh-place finish and a 15-16-4 record last year.
Through eight games, the team has looked the part of a contender in the conference, as well as nationally. The talented first line of Lynden Breen and brothers Bradly and Josh Nadeau led the way in a 4-2 victory Friday night, with Breen and Bradly each registering a goal and an assist, while Josh was credited with two assists.
Maine was ahead, 2-1, and five minutes away from pulling off the sweep Saturday when BC freshman Ryan Leonard scored his second goal in as many nights at 15:46 of the third period to tie the game. After a scoreless overtime, the Eagles went on to prevail in the shootout for the extra point. BC dropped to No. 3 in the USA Hockey poll, and fourth in the USCHO.com poll. The Black Bears moved up to No. 9 in both.
You can include BC coach Greg Brown among those happy to see Maine back in the mix.
“I remember all the great battles we had with them over the years,” Brown said ahead of the series. “It’s exciting. It’s great for the league to have as many strong teams as we can. It’s a win for both Hockey East and the fans of Hockey East.”
▪ Providence (5/5) sits in first place in Hockey East after sweeping Northeastern to improve to 8-1-2. The Friars have a nice blend of youth and experience across their four lines. Goalie Philip Svedeback stopped 28 of 31 shots to get both wins.
In Saturday’s 5-2 win at Matthews Arena, freshman Tanner Adams had a pair of goals, the second of which swung the momentum after the Huskies had pulled within 3-2 in the third.
Northeastern was on a power play after a Providence player was given a five-minute major for kneeing. Adams served the penalty, then found himself behind the defense when it expired, taking a long pass from Nick Poisson for an easy breakaway.
“Fortunately, we put the right guy in the box,” said Providence coach Nate Leaman. “That was a heck of a play by Tanner.”
▪ After starting the season winless in its first four games, Harvard picked a good time for a breakthrough. The Crimson handed Cornell its first loss, defeating the Big Red, 3-2, at Lynah Rink on Saturday behind two goals from Alex Gaffney and 27 saves from Derek Mullahy.
The young Harvard squad improved to 1-1-3, having come up short in two of its three shootouts, including Friday against Colgate.
▪ Two weekends ago, Lane Hutson recorded a hat trick for Boston University (8/8). On Saturday, it was older brother Quinn’s turn to score three goals in a 6-1 win to cap a series sweep of UMass Lowell. Freshman Macklin Celebrini assisted on all three scores and had four helpers on the night.
“He’s slippery,” said Quinn. “All of those goals, he snuck by like two guys. It’s nice. I just got open and he found me every time.”
▪ Celebrini was driven into the boards head-first by Dillan Bentley 1:13 into the game, but no penalty was called. BU coach Jay Pandolfo expressed his frustration after the game.
“It’s got to stop,” said Pandolfo. “There’s head hits that are unnecessary. This is the stuff that can’t happen in this game. The players can’t control that. It’s the referees that have to control that. They have to make sure that these plays don’t happen. It’s happening too often. It’s got to change.”
On Monday, Hockey East announced a one-game suspension for Bentley.
▪ Lincoln native Collin Graf returned to the lineup for Quinnipiac (7/7) after missing four games with a lower leg injury and recorded a goal and five assists in a pair of wins over Brown and Yale. Despite playing in just six of 11 games, the junior is second on the Bobcats in points with four goals and eight assists as the team has won three in a row by a combined score of 16-3.
▪ Bentley looks like it will be in the mix in Atlantic Hockey. The Falcons swept Niagara and have won six of their last eight games after starting the season 0-2. Senior Nicholas Grabko (4-1, .937 save percentage, 1.60 goals against average) and sophomore Connor Hasley (2-3, .908, 2.39) have split goaltending duties, with each recording a win over the weekend.
Follow Andrew Mahoney @GlobeMahoney.