ORONO, Maine — Despite the fact the University of Maine men’s 2-9-1 hockey team is in last place in Hockey East with its 1-5-1 conference mark and is 0-5-1 at its Alfond Arena, attendance is up over last year.
Maine has averaged 4,548 in its first six home games, 220 more per game over last season. Maine went 3-3 in its first six home games last season.
Maine has already played traditional rivals Boston College and New Hampshire at Alfond this season which usually spikes attendance.
The Black Bears will try to finally reward their fans this weekend when they entertain 2-7-2 Vermont (2-5-2 in Hockey East) at 8 p.m. Friday and 7 p.m. Saturday.
Senior defenseman Nick Pryor attributed the attendance boost to the “buzz” carried over from last year’s NCAA Tournament appearance, Maine’s first after a four-year absence.
But Maine’s home start has been uncharacteristic.
The Black Bears were 35-15-3 at Alfond Arena the previous three seasons after going a combined 14-15-5 in the 2008-2009 and 2007-2008 campaigns.
“It’s weird,” said senior center Kyle Beattie who said they have always considered Alfond Arena their safe haven and have thrived on the home-ice advantage.
Senior right wing and tri-captain Joey Diamond said the fact the fans have stuck with them this season despite their start speaks volumes.
“The fans here are unbelievable,” said Diamond. “You can’t say enough about them. This is why all of us chose to come to Maine. Even if we’re down and out, they still come and support us.
“That’s why we’re usually a second-half team … because the fans are so faithful no matter what happens. That’s one of the best things about being a Black Bear,” added Diamond.
“It says a lot about the fans, the university and the community,” said Beattie.
Maine coach Tim Whitehead said he is thankful that the fans have “stayed patient with us.”
“We’re rebuilding. We’re working hard to improve. We’re glad that they’re supporting us,” he said.
The players said the fans have been just as loud as always despite the team being outscored 22-6 at Alfond and having scored the first goal just twice in six games.
While Maine is winless at home, Vermont hasn’t posted a victory on the road. The Catamounts are 0-3-2 away from the Gutterson Field House.
The two teams enter the series with opposite trends.
Maine is 1-0-1 in its last two games, beating UMass Lowell 4-3 in Lowell and earning a 2-2 overtime home tie with UMass. Vermont has lost three in a row and five of six although the Catamounts’ last two losses came at the hands of the third-ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers 5-1, 3-1 in Burlington, Vt. last weekend.
Vermont will be finishing off a gruelling stretch in which it will have played seven games in 16 days.
Maine hasn’t played since the UMass tie on Nov. 16.
The Maine players said the time off has been good for them and they are eager to play again.
“We’ve had some good practices since we’ve been back,” said senior defenseman and tri-captain Mark Nemec who said they have been working hard on generating offense and creating scoring chances off the rush.
The players said every game is like a playoff game for them and with Vermont being just three points ahead of them in the standings, this is an opportunity to climb out of the cellar and make some inroads against the Catamounts.