By Anthony Lewis, Staff Writer
Heading into their fifth game of the season, the UMF club hockey team is busier than ever, looking into the future, and grappling with the past. After a number of disappointing seasons rife with injury, budget constraints, and bad press, the Beavers have both skates back on the ice and are gearing up for a run at this year’s playoffs.
Following a devastating 8-1 loss to Maine Maritime Academy, in which UMF boasted only eight players to its roster, Head Coach Scott Keim remained hopeful for the future of the season.
“Look, right now, our numbers are down, and we’ve got a lot of learners,” Keim said in a post-game interview. “And, you know, that’s fine; we’ve got a lot of heart, and a lot of pride. Our focus right now is on cleaning our reputation up, and keeping the guys focused and upbeat.”
An expansive, powerful man with a heavy white beard and a blue wool cap, Keim looks like a threatening cross between Ernest Hemingway and a weathered sea captain. His eyes focused intently on the ice, he’ll shout encouragement to players on every shift. Imbued with the belief that the Beavers simply need more skaters and a little bit more know-how to excel, he makes sure the game is always focused on the team.
“These guys will play with heart, every night. We’d like to recognize each of them individually, but it really comes down to the team,” said Keim. “At this point, if we get more skaters, we could see a deep run at the playoffs.”
Rachel Schoenberg, senior and president of the UMF hockey club, echoed Keim’s sentiments regarding numbers and reputation. Standing on the player’s bench in order to get a proper view of the action, Schoenberg snapped photos and barked orders as the game flew by before her. Despite the influence of Keim and his assistant coach (and son) Mike, it quickly became clear that Schoenberg called the shots.
“It’s been pretty rough so far…we’ve had ups and downs, and we’re getting it together,” said Schoenberg, who took the helm of the hockey club at the close of last season. Schoenberg said that the team is recovering from a reputation – developed over the past few years – of laziness and gratuitous aggression on the ice. “Basically, we’re recreating the team from the ground up,” she said. “We’ve come a very long way since the beginning of the year, and we have a very long way to go.”
Watching the team, it is clear to see their potential and dedication, but work is needed on their strategy and in-zone play. What the team lacks in defense, it makes up for with an intense attacking position. Their attack is quick and motivated, and could truly flourish with enough players on the team. Left winger and club treasurer Brendan Murphy emphasized the impact a fuller roster would have on the team’s success.
“Right now, we look like the Mighty Ducks in the first movie,” said Murphy with a grin. “But getting more guys and girls will help move the team along into a playoff position.”
This attitude seemed common throughout the entire team. The feeling of getting the players they need, combined with the grit and determination of the team as a whole, is the perfect formula to create a dangerous playoff threat.
Halfway through the second period of UMF’s matchup against MMA, defenseman Tyler Stockford took a slap shot to the glove. He kept skating, but returned to the bench holding his hand at the end of his shift. Later in the period, Coach Keim Sr. called to him from down the bench: “How’s the hand, Tyler?” Stockford only grimaced in response.
Seeing this, Coach Keim Jr. reached for a spare stick, scooped a pile of snow off the ice, and applied it gingerly to Stockford’s hand. “That’s the best I can do for you right now, man,” he said. Stockford smiled and thanked his coach. Such a simple gesture proved a powerful metaphor for the future success of the team. A group of young players who, despite not having every tool at their disposal, are willing to do what they can with what they have.
The team, which plays at Sukee Arena in Waterville, has their next matchup tonight, at 10:15 p.m., followed by a match on February 14 at 10:10 p.m.