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Freshmen spark early optimism for UMaine men’s hockey team

ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine men’s hockey team was trying to protect a one-goal lead on Saturday night against Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute of Troy, New York.

There was 1:03 left on the clock, and the Engineers had pulled their goalie in favor of an extra attacker.

There was a faceoff in the UMaine zone to the right of sophomore goaltender Rob McGovern.

The player entrusted by UMaine coach Red Gendron to take the all-important faceoff was freshman Chase Pearson. He had to win the faceoff or at least tie it up so the Engineers didn’t gain possession of the puck and set up a shot on goal.

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Pearson did his job. The puck was eventually rimmed around the boards to Cam Brown, who chipped it ahead to Pearson. He deposited it into the empty net to sew up the 4-2 win.

He wound up winning 18 of the team-high 29 faceoffs he took on the evening.

The game-winning goal was scored by freshman Mitch Fossier, Pearson’s linemate.

It was Fossier’s fourth goal of the weekend. He had registered a hat trick in Friday night’s 5-1 win over RPI.

Fossier was named the Hockey East Rookie of the Week for his efforts.

Longtime Black Bear hockey followers were hard-pressed to recall a freshman ever registering a hat trick in his first game dating back to UMaine’s season in 1977-78.

Pearson had a goal and an assist in Friday’s game.

Two other freshmen, center Patrick Shea and right wing Ryan Smith, each had two points on the weekend. Shea posted a goal and an assist, and Smith had two assists.

Another freshman, Patrick Holway, turned in two solid performances on the blue line. His eight shots on goal led all UMaine defensemen, and he can really rip it. He has an NHL shot.

The other two freshmen who made their debuts were right wing Jake Pappalardo and left wing Peter Housakos. Pappalardo had seven shots in the two games, and Housakos had three in the one game he played on Saturday.

When all was said and done, the freshman class had produced seven goals and four assists in the two games.

Last year’s freshman class registered only eight goals and 28 assists over the entire season.

The freshmen during 2014-15 had 23 goals and 35 assists. The first-year players during 2013-14 had 22 & 55, and the freshmen from 2012-13, including current National Hockey Leaguers Devin Shore (Dallas) and Ben Hutton (Vancouver), produced 29 goals and 53 assists.

Gendron’s willingness to play some of his freshmen in critical stages of the game speaks volumes about his faith in them and their abilities.

Fossier and Pearson, who were born in the Atlanta suburb of Alpharetta, Georgia, were a penalty-killing tandem, and most of the freshmen played on at least one special-teams unit (power play or penalty killing), if not both.

This freshman class could be a special group and could supply the shot in the arm the program has so desperately needed.

Before the series began, RPI coach Seth Appert said UMaine’s freshman class was a good one.

Two games certainly doesn’t make a season, but you can tell these freshmen have hockey sense and do a lot of the little things right that go unnoticed but are subtly important. Things such as back-checking intelligently, making smart decisions with the puck and protecting it effectively.

There was no sign of panic, and they were fearless. They were all willing to go into the high-traffic areas or into the corners to battle for the puck.

There are four other freshmen who could be contributors: Rangy, 6-foot-7, offensive-minded defenseman Oliver Herner, gritty 6-6 defenseman Stephen Cochrane, forward Tim Doherty and 6-8 goalie Stephen Mundinger.

Herner and Doherty are awaiting NCAA eligibility decisions pertaining to their availability. Cochrane was a redshirt last season.

The freshmen will be severely tested by this weekend’s opponent, Quinnipiac University of Hamden, Connecticut.

Quinnipiac was the NCAA runner-up last season and is coming off a win and a tie against defending Hockey East tournament champ Northeastern.

The third-ranked Bobcats of Rand Pecknold are 33-4-8 over their last 45 games and 110-34-23 over the last four-plus seasons.

This is Homecoming weekend, and the Black Bears and Bobcats will square off at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 7 p.m. Saturday at Alfond Arena.


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