A pair of games at the University of North Dakota and two games against Clarkson University at two different venues are among the highlights on the University of Maine men’s hockey team’s nonconference schedule this coming season.
The entire schedule was released on Thursday and it includes a season-opening exhibition game against the University of New Brunswick, which captured its third Canadian national championship in five years last season.
The UNB game will be played on Oct. 2 at 7 p.m.
The game will be followed by the Black Bears’ Hockey East openers against Merrimack College, which swept Maine in their Hockey East quarterfinal series, and Northeastern on Oct. 7 at 7 p.m. and Oct. 9 at 4, respectively.
Maine will play NCAA Tournament semifinalist North Dakota in Grand Forks, N.D., on Oct. 14-15.
The Fighting Sioux went 32-9-3 last season, including 7-3 and 4-2 losses to Maine in Orono in October.
As for Maine’s other nonconference games, the Bears will host the United States National Team Development Program’s Under-18 team for an exhibition on Nov. 23 followed by a Nov. 26 game against ECAC member Clarkson at the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland.
Maine will face Clarkson again on Dec. 29 in the Florida College Classic in Estero, Fla. Cornell, which co-hosts the tournament with Maine, will face Hockey East foe Massachusetts in the other first-round matchup.
The final two nonconference games will see Maine host Alabama-Huntsville, the nation’s only independent among the 58 schools that play Division I hockey, on Feb. 3-4.
Maine will again play a 27-game Hockey East schedule with three games against each of the other nine conference teams. The teams that will play twice in Orono are Providence, UMass Lowell, Boston College and UMass.
Maine was also scheduled to host archrival New Hampshire for a season-ending two-game series in Orono on March 2-3, but the teams could play a game in Boston’s Fenway Park and, if that occurs, there would be just one game in Orono.
Maine plays 11 games against teams that played in the NCAA Tournament last season. Including the two games against North Dakota, they will play three conference games apiece against Merrimack, Boston College and New Hampshire.
“I love the schedule, especially the fact we open up with some Hockey East games (at home) and then we go to North Dakota. It will be very challenging,” said Whitehead.
North Dakota graduated four of its top six scorers but returns a solid nucleus, including both goalies.
Clarkson went 15-19-2 last season, and its third consecutive losing season cost eight-year head coach George Roll and top assistant Greg Drechsel their jobs. Cornell assistant Casey Jones was named the new coach and he’ll have 17 of the Golden Knights’ top 20 scorers and all three goaltenders back.
Cornell went 16-15-3 last season and Alabama-Huntsville was 4-26-2.
Whitehead said Alabama-Huntsville coach Chris Luongo gave a passionate speech at the national coaches convention about needing teams to schedule them in order to retain their program until they can land in a conference.
“We can’t afford to lose any programs,” said Whitehead.
He said the schedule is a good mixture and he likes having a season-ending game or games against New Hampshire.
He said the current $3.5 million Alfond Arena renovation is scheduled to conclude on Sept. 19.
“We’re hoping to get some ice at the Penobscot Ice Arena in Brewer until we can get into the Alfond,” said Whitehead.
He said they will compensate for any lack of on-ice time with off-ice preparation.
The official first practice will be held on Oct. 1, although coaches are able to work with the team for two hours a week in September. But the team can have captain’s practices without the coaches.
Maine went 17-12-7 this past season and missed the NCAA Tournament for the fourth straight season.