The University of Maine men’s hockey team will have a rare weekend off before flying to Notre Dame next week to begin their final eight-game stretch of Hockey East games, and head coach Red Gendron feels the break will be beneficial.
Saturday night’s victory over New Hampshire was their sixth game in 12 days, including exhibition games against St. Francis Xavier and the University of New Brunswick.
“This is perfect for us. There’s nothing negative about it,” said Gendron. “We can improve our strength and conditioning to set ourselves up for the rest of the season.
“There will be some days off so we can catch our breath. We played pretty well this past weekend, but we showed some cracks against Lowell and Boston College, and we can certainly spend time on the things that need the most attention,” he added.
“It gives us time to regenerate for the rest of the season,” said senior center Jon Swavely. “We can rest up and make sure we’re ready to go when it’s time to play.”
Senior forward Mark Anthoine had mixed emotions.
“I wish we were still playing, but I think it’s good. Just like every team this time of year, we’ve got some bumps and bruises here and there. It’s good to have time to prepare for Notre Dame. We’ll work on conditioning and refining our skills.
“We can also focus on some schoolwork. We are students,” grinned Anthoine.
In the season’s remainder, the Bears will have to fill a void left by Stu Higgins, a junior center, who has been lost for the season due to a knee injury suffered in the second period of Tuesday’s win over New Brunswick.
“There’s damage to the ACL [anterior cruciate ligament] and MCL [medial collateral ligament],” said Higgins, who was on crutches during Sunday’s Skate with the Bears at Alfond Arena.
Higgins said he is expecting to learn more about his prognosis later this week.
Higgins was hit by UNB defenseman Matt Petgrave when Higgins leapt and tried to cut to his right to avoid Petgrave and corral the puck. Petgrave landed a hip-check on Higgins and said later he didn’t mean to injure him.
“It wasn’t a dirty hit. I misjudged my cut and jumped in the air which made the impact harder,” said Higgins.
“I’ve never felt anything like that before. I was in a little shock,” said Higgins.
Higgins was having his best offensive season with six goals and four assists in 20 games. He had 4-8 in 75 career games entering this season. In addition to his regular shift, he is also one of the team’s top penalty killers and also played on the power play.
“Obviously I want to be out there. It’s frustrating because I was having my best season offensively,” said Higgins. “But I’m still going to try to help the team. I’ve done some power-play video.”
He expects to be 100 percent next season.
Maine, 12-9-3 overall and 6-4-2 in Hockey East, is currently in fourth place in the league with 14 points in 12 games.
Boston College leads with 23 points followed by Northeastern (17), Providence (15), Maine (14), UMass Lowell (13), New Hampshire (12), Vermont (10), Notre Dame (9), UMass (8), Boston University (7) and Merrimack (6).
Northeastern has played 14 league games; Boston College, Providence and UMass have played 13; Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Boston University have played 12; and UMass Lowell, Notre Dame and Merrimack have each played 11.
Teams play 20 league games this season. The top five teams will receive first-round byes, while teams six through 11 will play a one-game elimination at the site of the higher seeds. After those games, they will reseed, and the quarterfinal series will be best-of-three affairs at the higher-seeded teams’ rinks.
Following the two games at Notre Dame (Feb. 7-8), Maine will host Merrimack (Feb. 14-15), visit Northeastern (Feb. 21-22) and entertain Providence (Feb. 28, March 1).
“We still control our own destiny,” said Gendron. “There are other teams in college hockey that have dug themselves a hole so being able to advance to the NCAA Tournament is very unlikely. For us, if we win, we’ll be able to keep playing in March. It’s that simple. Would I like to have won some more games? Absolutely. But, at the same time, we haven’t destroyed our hopes of having a good season.”
Maine is currently tied for 20th in the Pairwise Rankings that emulate the NCAA Tournament selection process. Providence and Northeastern are tied for seventh and Notre Dame is 12th.
But the Bears are going to have to find a way to win on the road. They are 0-8-2 in opposing rinks.
Bears appreciative of crowd
The Black Bears were very appreciative of the loud sellout crowd of 5,125 people on Saturday night.
“I’ve never heard Alfond that loud. It inspired us when we were out there,” said Swavely.
“The crowd was crazy. They got us going,” said sophomore defenseman/forward Bill Norman, who filled in for Jake Rutt, who was attending his brother’s wedding.
Rutt said because the game had been originally scheduled for Sunday, the wedding was planned for Saturday to accommodate him. But the game was changed to Saturday.
“Family comes first,” said Gendron.