ORONO — Over the previous three seasons, the current seniors on the University of Maine’s women’s hockey team had spent this week making plans for spring break.
Not this year.
The Black Bears are the first Maine women’s hockey team to qualify for the Hockey East Tournament since 2005-2006.
The sixth-seeded Black Bears will travel to play No. 3 Providence, the nation’s 10th-ranked team, on 2 p.m. Saturday in a single-elimination quarterfinal.
Maine qualified in dramatic fashion, going 2-1-1 against the nation’s seventh-ranked Boston College and fourth-ranked Boston University on the the last two weekends of the regular season. BU and BC are Hockey East’s top two seeds.
Maine’s 3-2 overtime win over BU, coupled with BC’s 2-1 victory over New Hampshire, supplied Maine with the sixth seed.
“I congratulated them earlier this week on experiencing their first two post-regular season practices. They were cheering,” smiled first-year coach Maria Lewis, who guided her Black Bears to a 12-16-5 record, 6-12-3 in Hockey East, the most wins in both categories since the 2005-2006 season.
The six seniors are ecstatic.
“It feels pretty good,” grinned left wing Jennie Gallo, who scored the game-winner against BU. “We really came together over the last part of the season. It has been fantastic. We’re the comeback Bears. I’m very proud of the entire team. We’ve come a long way. I’m excited to see what’s going to happen.”
Defenseman Madelene Eriksson added, “We worked together as a group these last two weekends. It’s hard to beat a whole group working together.”
“I’ve never experienced anything like this,” said right wing Kaitlin Zeek. “It’s something we’ve been shooting for for four years. I knew it would happen at some point. I’m excited it happened while we were here.”
Left wing Jordan Colliton wasn’t surprised.
“We’ve had good teams before. But this year we had someone believe in us: Coach Lewis,” said Colliton. “She changed a lot of things that needed to be changed.”
Thalia Grundstrom, a senior playing her first season at Maine, said the team is like a “family.”
The tournament berth has special meaning to center Danielle Cyr of Cumberland, the team’s only Maine native.
“It’s pretty cool coming here and being a part of this team,” said Cyr. “I grew up watching Maine hockey games all the time, men and women. I’ve always been a big fan of the sport. My parents (Scott and Phyllis) went to school here.
“We showed a lot of character to be able to come through and pull off some big wins,” added Cyr.
The Black Bears went 1-2 against 21-11-1 Providence this season, snapping Providence’s 23-game unbeaten streak (17-0-6) against them. They won’t be intimidated by the Friars.
“Our confidence is very high right now after coming off such a huge win,” said Zeek.