The University of Maine men’s hockey team has had plenty of success at Portland’s Cumberland County Civic Center.
The Black Bears hope to extend that success while also giving some of their younger players some valuable playing time when they face the United States National Team Development Program’s Under-18 squad in an exhibition game at 4 p.m. Sunday.
Maine, 9-5-4, is coming off a 3-2 overtime win over Cornell University in the consolation game ofthe Florida College Classic in Estero, Fla.
“We’ll want to get everyone in the lineup out there. We only play once a year in Portland,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “We have a lot of younger players who haven’t seen a lot of ice time but we’ll also play the veterans as well.”
Maine has an all-time record of 17-6-3 at the Cumberland County Civic Center and is 9-0-3 in its last 12 games there including last year’s 10-1 win over St. Lawrence.
“We love playing down there,” said Whitehead. “We’ve had a lot of success. The crowds have been great and we enjoying doing a couple of events around it like the youth clinic and the Skate With the Bears in Falmouth after our Saturday morning practice there.”
They also have a team dinner.
“We definitely look forward to it,” said sophomore Matt Mangene, who scored the game-winner against Cornell after being moved from center to defense before the game. “The fans are great. It’s nice to see some new faces. It’s a neat atmosphere.”
Mangene also said the game will be beneficial to work on some little things before beginning their final stretch of 16 Hockey East games, such as him getting more seasoning on defense.
Whitehead intends to stay with Mangene on defense. That will give other players a shot to assume Mangene’s role of centering the third line.
Mangene said he doesn’t have a preference where he plays.
“I like both. I’ll play where they need me,” said Mangene. “Defense is fun. You get to see the ice more.”
One of the interesting twists to the game is that one of the goalies for the Under-18s is Matt McNeely, who verbally committed to Maine initially but changed his mind in favor of the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
He is from Burnsville, Minn.
Whitehead said it was disappointing that he reneged on his verbal commitment because “(assistant) Dan Kerluke found him and was the first one to believe in him. Other teams didn’t show any interest.
“But he’s a great kid and he just wanted to stay closer to home. It’s a very tight-knit family. I’m happy for him and his family,” said Whitehead.
But Maine junior left wing Spencer Abbott said, “We’d like to score some goals on him to let him know he should have come to Maine.”
McNeely made 38 saves in the U.S. Under-18s last game, a 2-1 loss at North Dakota on Dec. 18.
Whitehead said he will probably use both freshman goalies, Dan Sullivan and Martin Ouellette, during the game.