Hockey East facelift leaves coaches scrambling for nonconference games

Posted Feb. 07, 2013, at 6:07 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 07, 2013, at 11:44 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — Hockey East will undergo a facelift next season.

With the addition of Notre Dame as its 11th team, the league schedule will shift from 27 games to 20.

Instead of playing each other three times, the teams will play each other twice.

That means coaches like the University of Maine’s Tim Whitehead have been busy trying to fill out their 14-game nonconference schedules.

Teams are allowed to play 34 total games.

And, with budgetary constraints, it hasn’t been easy.

However, Whitehead said he has been able to fill all but two spots so far.

“We’re the most isolated of all the teams in Hockey East,” said Whitehead. “So it’s a challenge to get the [nonleague] games.

“We’re $200,000 beyond our budget now and we’re going to Notre Dame for two [league] games next season and that will cost us $50,000. So we’re going to have to raise the funds for it,” said Whitehead.

He said in the seasons when Maine has to go to Notre Dame, it won’t be able to schedule other expensive non-conference road trips.

Notre Dame is located in South Bend, Ind.

Two of Maine’s 14 non-conference games will be at the 14th annual Florida College Classic, a tournament it co-hosts with Cornell University of the ECAC.

Maine will play ECAC member Princeton, and Hockey East archrival New Hampshire will face Cornell in the first round.

Four more will involve two nonconference games apiece against Hockey East teams Vermont and UMass in addition to their two league games against each.

Whitehead said he is trying to work out an agreement for a non-conference game every season against New Hampshire that will be played on a rotating basis between Portland’s Cumberland County Civic Center and the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, N.H.

He said the other non-conference games involve ECAC and Atlantic Hockey teams.

He said to bring non-conference teams to Orono, it costs between $10,000-$25,000 “and [the price] goes up every year.

“And it’s very difficult to get teams to travel this kind of distance to play us,” added Whitehead.

Maine will play 10 Hockey East home games and 10 on the road next season.

Providence College coach Nate Leaman suggested that Hockey East look into a non-conference scheduling agreement with another league.

Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy agreed.

“We should leverage the power of Hockey East,” said Dennehy referring to the fact Hockey East teams have won four of the last five NCAA championships.

Maine softball opens Friday

Second-year coach Lynn Coutts and her University of Maine softball team will get to enjoy a season-opening trip to Spartanburg, S.C., for four games in the USC Upstate Tournament while a potentially heavy winter storm hits Maine.

They will begin with a 4 p.m. game on Friday against the University of North Carolina-Central.

Following the tournament, the Black Bears will return to Orono and gear up for their spring trip to Tampa, Fla., from March 1 to 17.

“We want to get out early and see what we have,” said Coutts. “I want to see how the pitching is and we’re going to have some [positional] movement involving our infielders.”

All-America East second-team first baseman and senior captain Hilary Kane .225-3 homers, 16 RBIs) will miss the trip due to a lower body injury, according to Coutts, but hopes to be back for the trip to Tampa.

Left fielder Dagmar Ralphs, the second-leading hitter among regulars with a .284 average a year ago, tore her anterior cruciate ligament (knee) in the summer and will also miss the trip.

Kane and Ralphs shared the team lead RBIs last year.

Sophomore Nikki Byron will see service at first and third; junior catcher Jean Stevens will see some duty at third; sophomore Katlin Norton will see some time at first and right fielder Jessica Burk will move to shortstop where she will replace the graduated Jennifer Eberhardt. Sophomore second baseman Kristen Koslosky will also see duty at shortstop.

Workhorse pitcher Ashley Kelley has graduated, but veterans Beth Spoehr and Kyle Sparks are back to head up the rotation. They will be joined by transfers Hannah Hill of Fryeburg and Alexis Bogdanovich of South Portland.

Hockey East postponements aplenty

Five Hockey East men’s games scheduled this weekend were postponed due to the pending snowstorm and the University of Maine left a day early for its Saturday night game at the University of Vermont.

The Black Bears were scheduled to leave Friday for Vermont but left Thursday night after practice.

The Maine women’s hockey team also left Thursday night for its two-game set at Vermont on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

The Hockey East men’s games that were postponed included Friday night games sending New Hampshire to Providence (rescheduled Feb. 13), Northeastern to UMass (Feb. 19), Merrimack to Boston University (Feb. 26) and UMass Lowell to Boston College (Feb. 26).

Saturday’s game between UMass and Merrimack was pushed to 4 p.m. Sunday at Lawler Arena in North Andover, Mass.

Three women’s Hockey East games were also postponed as the New Hampshire-Boston University game was moved to Feb. 20 while the UConn-Northeastern and Providence-Boston College games were pushed back to Feb. 19.

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