University of Maine men’s hockey coach Red Gendron wants his teams to play a challenging schedule. His Black Bears, looking to rebuild from an 11-win campaign and 11th-place Hockey East finish during 2016-2017, will face a tough one next season.
Among the non-conference home opponents on UMaine’s slate is 2017 national runner-up Minnesota Duluth while the Bears also will travel to perennial ECAC contender Quinnipiac University in December.
Eight of UMaine’s first 10 contests are at home, including a Nov. 18 matchup with Hockey East rival Boston University at Cross Insurance Arena in Portland.
“We think it’s a great schedule,” Gendron said.
After an Oct. 1 exhibition contest against Acadia University, UMaine opens its season Oct. 6-7 with a Hockey East series against the University of Connecticut. Those are the first of 24 Hockey East games.
Each Hockey East team will play six conference opponents twice and four teams on three occasions. The schedule is set up on a two-year rotation so teams play the same four opponents three times.
UMaine faces New Hampshire, Boston University, Boston College and Massachusetts three times. The Black Bears play BU and UNH twice each at home and BC and UMass twice each on the road, with the arrangement to be reversed during 2018-2019.
After the UConn series, the Bears have a weekend off before entertaining Miami of Ohio (Oct. 20-21) and Minnesota Duluth (Oct. 27-28) in back-to-back, two-game home sets. UMaine went 0-1-1 against the Redhawks last fall, while the program last faced UMD in the 2012 Florida College Classic.
The Bulldogs were UMaine’s last NCAA tournament opponent in 2012 ,with UMD dispatching UMaine 5-2 at Worcester, Massachusetts. UMD went 25-6-7 and won the National Collegiate Hockey Conference last season.
After the extended opening homestand, the Black Bears get their first road league test with a trip to defending Hockey East champion UMass Lowell Nov. 3-4 before another idle weekend precedes a home series with BU. The Bears and Terriers face off in Orono on Nov. 17 then head to Portland the following evening.
The Bears played three games in Portland last season.
“The way the schedule played out it wasn’t feasible to have more than one game down there this year,” Gendron said.
After that, UMaine embarks on the longest road trip in program history. The Black Bears fly to Belfast, Northern Ireland, for the Friendship Four tournament over the Thanksgiving holiday, along with Providence College of Hockey East, and ECAC members RPI and Clarkson.
“It’s an experience our players will remember long after [they graduate],” Gendron said. “We’ll learn some things about Ireland before we go.”
UMaine’s final home series of the fall semester follows as Vermont invades Alfond Arena for a two-game set Dec. 1-2.
Four consecutive road contests with ECAC opponents end the 2017 calendar year with two-game sets at Quinnipiac (Dec. 8-9) and RPI (Dec. 29-30).
The second half of the schedule will test the mettle of a UMaine team that has struggled on the road over the last few seasons. The Black Bears will play only six games in front of the Alfond Arena faithful during the second semester.
Trips to BU (Jan. 6), Brown University (Jan. 8) and Northeastern (Jan. 12-13) kick off the second half, followed by a Tuesday night home game against UMass on Jan. 16.
“At the end of the day you’ve got to win your games no matter where you play them,” Gendron said.
Border rival New Hampshire, which UMaine hasn’t beaten since the 2014-2015 season, invades the Alfond for a two-game set Jan. 19-20 before the Bears visit UMass for two games the following weekend.
February kicks off with a home series against Merrimack College (Feb. 2-3) before a single game at Providence on Feb. 9.
The Bears close out their 35-game slate with a Valentine’s Day game at UNH, a Feb. 17 home contest against Boston College and two road games at BC the following weekend (Feb. 23-24).
UMaine returns a sophomore class that produced 36 goals as freshmen, second in Hockey East, along with talented veterans such as Nolan Vesey (23 points last season) and Rob Michel (19 points).
The incoming freshman class is highlighted by Eduards Tralmarks, MVP of the United States Hockey League playoffs, and goaltender Jeremy Swayman, a fourth-round draft pick of the Boston Bruins in last month’s NHL draft.
“We love our freshman class,” Gendron said. “We feel pretty good about all of our players.”