Black Bear Nation FTS: Men’s Hockey – In Red We Trust

The 2013-14 University of Maine men’s ice hockey season came to a screeching halt on Saturday night, when the Providence Friars completed a weekend sweep of our heroes in the Hockey East tournament quarterfinals.  The back-to-back 3-1 and 4-2 defeats were a bitter, yet fitting end to the season, given how poorly the Black Bears had been playing recently, and how poorly they played away from the Alfond all season long.  Still, there is reason to be optimistic about the future of our historic and proud hockey program. 

As we, and many others, said way back in September, Red Gendron is definitely the right man for this job.  Without looking at any stats, any records, or any results, this Maine team performed much better on the proverbial “eye test” than it did a season ago.  Under Coach Gendron, the Black Bears played harder, showed more accountability, and demonstrated a higher compete level than fans, alumni, and supporters had seen out of this team in years.

Not surprisingly, the record and results beared that out.  After winning just 11 games and taking home 39.5% of their games’ available points last season, this year’s squad won 16 games and collected 51.4% of the available points. 

This year, Maine also got back to doing something that Black Bear hockey ALWAYS did…defend the Alfond home ice.  On the heels of last season’s dreadful 2-9-6 home ice record, Maine went an impressive 13-3 in the friendly confines of Alfond Arena.  The ability to win at home, in any sport, is the first key step in building (or in Maine’s case, rebuilding) a successful, winning program.

It was away from Alfond where things got tricky this year (and actually got worse when compared to last year).  Maine managed only one win in 16 true road games this year, compared to five road wins the season before.  These are, decidedly, not numbers that suggest a winner.

And, looking at the season objectively, this team was not a winner.  For all of the improvements in the aforementioned intangible areas, the Black Bears proved not to have the killer instinct championship teams possess.  On several occasions (the Notre Dame series comes to mind), Maine either gave away or nearly gave away points late in games.

This same characteristic reared its ugly head late in the year, when Maine proved unable to not only close out games, but the season as a whole.  With their Hockey East quarterfinal home ice destiny in their own hands, Maine went on to finish 1-5-1 in their last seven games, including this past weekend’s sweep in Providence.

Teaching his team to take care of business when all the money’s in the middle, be it in a game or in the season, has to be the priority for Coach Gendron in the 2014-15 campaign.  This year, he taught his squad to be tougher, play harder, and care about each other on a consistent basis.  Now, he’ll need to teach them how to crank it up that one last notch…the notch that only great, winning, championship teams possess.

Maine will, of course, have personnel issues to address as well.  In addition to senior skaters Mark Anthoine, Jon Swavely, and Brice O’Connor, the Black Bears will also be losing G Martin Ouellette, Maine’s all-time single-season saves leader, to graduation.  However, with 10 solid recruits coming in for next year alone and more reinforcements already committed to seasons thereafter, we are confident that Coach Gendron will continue building a roster loaded with the levels of talent Maine hockey supporters expect.

The trajectory of the Black Bears’ reascent to excellence will not depend on talent…Maine will have the talent.  No, the speed at which Maine returns to the era of hoisting trophies will depend on attitude and culture.  Specifically, an attitude of winning, a culture of success.  Alabama football has it.  Duke basketball has it.  This year’s Maine hockey team, not surprisingly, did not.  But next year’s team will.  It’s the natural progression in Coach Gendron’s process.  After all, winning is all he knows how to do.

Give us your thoughts on the 2013-14 Maine hockey season and your early predictions for next year’s campaign.  Share your opinions in the comments section below and on Twitter using #FillTheSteins!

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