Charismatic Lewis believes UMaine hockey can win a national championship

The University of Maine women’s hockey program has spent its existence operating in the shadow of the once-mighty and still formidable men’s program.
However, it appears the Black Bears will soon be ready to earn some time in the limelight.
With charismatic head coach Maria Lewis setting the tone, UMaine has moved into the national rankings this week.
The Bears, coming off a road sweep of Boston University, are ranked 13th in the national women’s poll on the strength of a 12-8-5 record (6-6-1 Hockey East).
It takes only a few minutes speaking with Lewis to realize UMaine has found a special leader and motivator to direct the program.
Lewis exudes passion for the game of hockey as she talks about her present team and the desire to turn the Black Bears into a formidable force at the national level.
“We can win a national championship here in this particular sport. It’s a fact,” Lewis said emphatically.
The turnaround already appears to have begun.
Unlike some coaches who appeal to the campus and the community to come out and support their programs, Lewis has taken a refreshing approach. The way she sees it, when UMaine is consistently putting an outstanding team on the ice, only then will she expect fans to jump on board.
Much like the dynamics that separate men’s and women’s basketball, women’s Division I hockey is a different game than on the men’s side.
Lewis explained that rather exhibiting the brute force and physicality of men’s hockey, the women instead are showing off excellent skating, polished stickhandling and strong on-ice chemistry among the players.
“It’s about the purity of the sport,” Lewis explained. “It’s about the skill, it’s about the skating, it’s about the passing.”
That doesn’t mean it isn’t good hockey. The key is putting the best players possible on the ice at every position to ensure the quality of competition.
Lewis said she doesn’t blame fans who might have watched a game a few years back and came away unimpressed. She believes the talent level at UMaine has improved considerably and will continue to do so.
“It’s completely different today,” she offered.
Lewis is convinced that when people can watch women’s hockey played at a high level, the game doesn’t need any embellishment.
She is quick to caution that Maine girls high school hockey, which is still in its infancy, is not a good measuring stick for what people might expect to see at UMaine.
Lewis isn’t offended by how women’s hockey has been perceived in the past or the fact it isn’t at the top of most athletic departments’ priority lists. Even so, she has seen what an impact the sport can have.
As an assistant coach, Lewis helped rebuild a Mercyhurst program that became what she called the top sport on campus. She also was part of turning North Dakota into a nationally ranked program.
Even though that hasn’t happened in the past at UMaine, she is determined as the head coach to elevate women’s hockey to similar status.
“Even if people don’t know it yet, we’re coming, whether you’re ready or not,” Lewis said.
Those words might not resonate on a computer or smart-phone screen, but to hear Lewis speak them is to better understand her commitment and confidence.
Lewis is also understandably proud of her student-athletes’ academic achievements. UMaine boasts 16 academic All-Americans, the most in Hockey East.
Sports fans who have never watched women’s hockey, or those who haven’t been to a game in a few years, have a good opportunity this weekend.
UMaine plays home games Friday at 2 p.m. against Connecticut and Sunday at noon against Providence. In conjunction with Sunday’s game, the Black Bears will hold a breast cancer awareness fundraising event.
Lewis hopes her program can continue to improve, become more consistent and be worthy of Maine fans’ support.
“It’s a hockey state, it’s a hockey school and I think the community deserves two teams that are doing well,” Lewis said. “We want to do our part.”

This entry was posted in Colleges, Hockey, UMaine by Pete Warner. Bookmark the permalink.

About Pete Warner

Pete is a Bangor native who graduated from Bangor High School, Class of 1980. He earned a B.S. in Journalism (Advertising) from the University of Maine in 1986. He has been a full-time member of the Bangor Daily News Sports staff since 1984. Pete lives in Bangor with his wife of 35 years, Annia. They have two adult sons, Will and Paul. Pete is fluent in Spanish and enjoys visiting his in-laws and friends in Costa Rica. His hobbies including hunting, fishing and listening to jazz.