ORONO — University of Maine center Kyle Beattie, who has been plagued by concussions, will return to the lineup and will be one of seven seniors honored this weekend when the Black Bears host Northeastern University for the final games at Alfond Arena this season.
Maine, 9-17-6 overall and 5-12-6 in Hockey East, is one point out of the eighth and final Hockey East playoff spot and needs points desperately while last-place Northeastern (9-18-3, 5-15-3) is even more desperate.
During the seniors’ time at the university, Maine has gone 68-60-19, including a 47-42-15 regular season mark in Hockey East. This is the first season for them in which the Black Bears haven’t posted a winning record.
Maine made its first NCAA Tournament appearance after a four-year drought a year ago.
Appearing for the last time at Alfond Arena will be defensemen and tri-captains Mark Nemec, Mike Cornell and Nick Pryor; right wing and tri-captain Joey Diamond, left wing Adam Shemansky and centers Beattie and Klas Leidermark.
Pryor won’t be in the lineup because of a concussion. He hasn’t played since Jan. 5. Diamond missed last weekend with chronic back issues but could be back this weekend.
Beattie said he has been “symptom-free for a while” and it “feels great to be back on the ice.
“It’s crazy that this is our last weekend at Alfond Arena. It hasn’t sunk in yet,” said Beattie, who has missed the last six games after suffering his third concussion of the season on Feb. 1. “I’m sure it will in a couple of weeks. It’s going to be pretty bittersweet.
“These have been the best four years of my life,” added Beattie. “I don’t regret a thing. I’ve had so much fun. I’ve learned and gained so much experience.”
The others echoed his sentiments.
“You couldn’t ask for a better place to play,” said Nemec. “It has been an unbelievable experience. The community, the fans, everyone has been tremendous. I can’t say enough about the coaches and my teammates.”
Shemansky said the teams have been like “families” and being with his teammates has “definitely been a highlight.”
Maine coach Tim Whitehead call the senior class “fabulous.”
He said their leadership has been crucial in the team’s resurgence. Maine has gone 7-6-4 since Christmas.
“We have such a young team and we’ve had so many injuries but they kept the team from getting frustrated and allowed us to recapture the season in the second half. They’ve kept the guys focused and positive,” said Whitehead.
The players listed a variety of highlights.
The 5-4 overtime win over New Hampshire at Boston’s Fenway Park last season was at the top of the list along with the NCAA Tournament berth.
“That Fenway game was awesome as was playing in that [Hockey East] championship game at the Garden,” said Cornell referring to the thrilling 7-6 overtime loss to Boston College his freshman year.
“I remember the playoff run that got us to the Garden,” said Leidermark referring to the 3-2 overtime win against UMass Lowell in game three of their best-of-three quarterfinal series and the 5-2 win over Boston University in the semis at the Garden.
Leidermark will have both parents, two sisters and three grandparents in attendance as they arrived from Sweden on Thursday.
Nemec recalled scoring his first career goal in the first UMass Lowell playoff game, a 2-1 setback in Orono.
Beattie remembered the home sweeps of New Hampshire in 2009-2010 and North Dakota in 2010-11.
“We always did well in Florida,” said Cornell referring to Maine’s three championships in four years at the Florida College Classic in Estero, Fla.
There will certainly be some emotions flowing after Saturday’s game when the seniors address the crowd.
But the seniors also know that this weekend is absolutely crucial when it comes to their playoff aspirations.
“I think it’s a good thing to play games that mean something (on Seniors Weekend)” said Leidermark.
The seniors career stats leading into the weekend series are: Nemec (131 games, 5 goals, 11 assists, 16 points), Cornell (122, 4-23-27), Pryor (64, 2-15-17); Diamond (129, 57-42-99), Shemansky (126, 23-28-51) and Beattie (109, 17-37-54) and Leidermark (91, 6-7-13).
Maine concludes its regular season March 8-9 at New Hampshire.