Maine women look to emulate men’s success

UMaine may have polished off one of the most significant wins in its history on Tuesday, a 4-1 upset of New Hampshire.

But there was little time to savor it.

The Black Bears were back on skates and on the ice early (if not bright) on Wednesday.

Still, there wasn’t a grumble to be heard, or a even yawn to be stifled.

Instead, smiles abounded as the Black Bears were joined by dozens of girls seeking all the hockey wisdom they can soak up. The event took place at the Colisee in Lewiston, 115 miles south of Alfond Arena, where Maine has played one home game per year for the last three.

“It’s awesome,” said junior left wing Dawn Sullivan, Maine’s team captain. “It’s kind of like getting back to basics. I used to love these camps. I had the opportunity to work on skills. And it’s like you’re into the whole game. It doesn’t matter what level you are. All the girls here are different levels, and they’re all taking something away from this. That’s the best part.”

Sullivan’s enthusiasm was echoed by her teammate, senior Dani Cyr.

“I definitely like coming out and doing these clinics,” said Cyr, the lone native Mainer on the team. “I think it’s a lot of fun. It’s a lot of learning for me, too. To be able to try articulate what makes you successful is a certain skill. I think that’s the hardest part. I think it’s great to come out here to try and work with the girls. I think when I was 12, I went to this ‘Skate With the Black Bears.’ This really makes me think of that, and how far the Maine program has come.”

Even so, Maine has to do more to even be competitive in the WHEA.

The Black Bears have enjoyed just one winning season in their nine year run in Hockey East, and have yet to win a WHEA playoff game. The overwhelming success of the men’s program in Orono over the years has made the women’s perceived lot that much poorer.

First year coach Maria Lewis — who has been an assistant at Mercyhurst, North Dakota, and Maine (as a volunteer in 1999-2000) — knew all that when she arrived.

“I want to have success with this program,” Lewis said. “I want the program to be on the women’s side what it is on the men’s side. When I look at Maine hockey, it’s got such a rich tradition and history. It’s unfortunate that it hasn’t happened on the women’s side, but I believe wholeheartedly that it can.”

Success runs along two tracks in this hockey rich state: on the scoreboard, and in the heart.

The men long ago won the hearts (and have sometimes broken them) of Mainers under the regimes of the late Shawn Walsh and his successor, Tim Whitehead.

And while clinics will help the women win over young Mainers one heart at a time, they also have to regularly beat the likes of UNH to pull in a bigger harvest.

“We’re starting to believe in ourselves,” Lewis said. “And we showed it on the ice (Tuesday) night. But one game doesn’t make a season. And we have to press forward to get where we want to get to.”

NOTES: To button down the win against the Wildcats, Maine had to deal with the all-notorious, two-goal third period lead. It’s a nice problem to have, of course, but there’s a reason why coaches always feel uneasy about defending a deuce.

“We talked about the two-goal lead,” said Lewis, “and how dangerous it is. It’s not a time to sit back and hold on. It’s a time to make sure we stay disciplined. Stay poised and in control. I think they did show a lot, because in the past, I think they would have wilted and been rattled. Your mindset makes all the difference in the world.”

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