Maine hockey to host UNH on Saturday in crucial Seniors Night game

Posted March 02, 2012, at 8:15 p.m.
Last modified March 02, 2012, at 10:12 p.m.

ORONO — University of Maine center Brian Flynn is 12th on the school’s career scoring list with 153 points (68 goals, 85 assists) in 146 games and his linemate, left wing Spencer Abbott, is tied for 22nd with 52-88-140 in 145 games.

They are two of the six men’s hockey players who will be honored on Seniors Night at the Alfond Arena on Saturday when the Black Bears entertain archrival New Hampshire at 4 p.m.

The others are point-producing defenseman Will O’Neill (134 games, 17-78-95), reliable stay-at-home defenseman Ryan Hegarty (116 games, 4-24-28), left wing Theo Andersson (102, 6-6-12) and backup goalie Josh Seeley (2 games, 3 saves on 3 shots).

The seniors will have an opportunity to earn the fourth seed and host Merrimack College for a best-of-three Hockey East quarterfinal series next weekend with a win over New Hampshire. UMass beat Merrimack 5-1 on Friday night so Maine will enter Saturday’s regular-season finale with a one-point lead over fifth-place Merrimack. Merrimack will host UMass on Saturday night.

Teams earn two points for a win and one for a tie.

If Maine and Merrimack finish tied in points, Merrimack will win the tie-breaker based on its 2-0-1 record against Maine so the Warriors would host Maine in the quarterfinals.

Maine has gone 68-62-17 in the seniors’ four years including a 55-40-13 mark over the last three. Maine is 41-30-9 in Hockey East the past three seasons.

The six players all have enjoyed their time at Maine and will be honored before and after the game.

But because of the importance of the game, their emotions will be placed on the back burner.

Winning will be the sole focus.

“The tough part will be channeling our emotions into the game,” said Hegarty.

“It’s all business for us. This is a huge hockey game,” said Flynn.

“We have to come out and get those two points,” said Abbott. “We can enjoy it but we have to be hardworking at the same time.”

Maine coach Tim Whitehead labeled the class a “tremendous group. They have fought through a lot of ups and downs and risen above them. I’m very proud of them.”

He called Flynn and Abbott “diamonds in the rough” who have exceeded expectations and become two of the nation’s elite forwards. He said O’Neill and Hegarty are his top two defensemen and are also in the elite category; Andersson has been an excellent defensive forward and Seeley is the “consummate team player.”

The players said their Hockey East playoff run in the 2009-2010 season, in which they beat UMass Lowell 3-2 in overtime in the third game of their quarterfinal series, topped Boston University 5-2 in the semifinals and took eventual national champ Boston College to overtime before losing 7-6 in the title game at the TD Bank Garden, was one of their highlights. Another highlight was this year’s 5-4 OT win over New Hampshire at Boston’s Fenway Park.

“My time here has been unbelievable,” said O’Neill in summing up the consensus of the six. “I’m so fortunate to have been given an opportunity to play here for [Whitehead] and for the school and the fans. It has been a great experience.”

Flynn and Abbott said they wish their teams had been a little more successful but they both were quick to add that this could be the year they realize their goals.

“Hopefully, we can do something special this year,” said Andersson.

A victory over New Hampshire would give Maine its 20th win and it would be the first time Maine has won 20 games since the 2006-2007 season when the Bears went 23-15-2 and reached the Frozen Four.

It was Maine’s last NCAA Tournament appearance, capping a string of nine straight NCAA bids.

Hegarty called his four years “an unbelievable learning experience. I’ve grown on and off the ice.”

“It has been four amazing years,” said Andersson.

“I’ve had a great time,” said Howland’s Seeley. “This is a great place.”

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