ORONO, Maine — After a rare weekend off, the re-energized University of Maine men’s hockey team will make its first visit to Hockey East newcomer Notre Dame this weekend.
The Black Bear players said the time off has been beneficial as they begin the stretch run looking for their first road win of the season against Notre Dame 7:35 p.m. Friday and 8 p.m. Saturday.
“We had some time to sit down, look at our systems and tweak them,” said Maine senior defenseman and captain Brice O’Connor. “We had a chance to watch more video and study the game, and we worked on individual skills.”
Maine has eight games remaining, all in Hockey East, and it is one of five teams separated by just three points in the league standings.
League leader Boston College has a healthy eight-point lead with 25 points.
Runners-up UMass Lowell and Northeastern each have 17, while New Hampshire has 16, Providence has 15 and Maine has 14, which is four points more than seventh-place Vermont and five more than Notre Dame and UMass.
Maine has played two fewer games than Northeastern and New Hampshire, and one fewer than UMass Lowell.
Maine is 12-9-3 overall, 6-4-2 in Hockey East, while Notre Dame is 15-11-1 and 4-8-1.
Teams get two points for a win and one for a tie, and the top five teams will earn a first-round bye in the Hockey East playoffs, while the other six play a single-game elimination round. The top four teams will host a best-of-three quarterfinals series.
“We control our own fate,” said O’Connor. “If we play well, we can climb up the standings. If not, we can very easily drop to the bottom.”
“There’s a huge logjam in the standings. Everyone wants home ice. It’s exciting. These are the games you sign up for,” noted sophomore center Devin Shore.
“Every team has their own challenge right now, and ours is getting a win on the road,” said senior left wing Mark Anthoine. “We’ve been working hard and that has been a motivating factor. We don’t dwell on it, we’re looking forward to attacking it this weekend.”
The Bears said their dismal goal scoring display on the road, 15 goals in 10 games (0-8-2), can be remedied by simplifying their game and scoring dirty goals created by a tenacious net-drive.
Maine could be bolstered by the return of sophomore center-right wing Steven Swavely (7 goals, 6 assists), who has been out with a leg injury since Jan. 11.
Shore (12-19), defenseman Ben Hutton (9-11), left wing Connor Leen (3-15), Anthoine (7-9), center Cam Brown (3-11) and right wing Ryan Lomberg (8-6) continue to pace the Bears along with goalie Martin Ouellette (11-9-3, 2.08 goals-against average, .930 save percentage).
Notre Dame, which is 12-4-1 at home but has scored just seven goals in its last four games, has 11 NHL draft choices compared to Maine’s four. Coach Jeff Jackson’s Fighting Irish have been led by center T.J. Tynan (6-21), left wing Mario Lucia (15-10), center Vince Hinostroza (6-18), right wing Bryan Rust (9-12), left wing Sam Herr (12-7), defenseman Robbie Russo (4-11) and goalie Steven Summerhays (13-10-1, 2.13, .918).