ORONO — The months of February and March haven’t been kind to the University of Maine men’s hockey team in recent years.
But head coach Red Gendron and his players won’t be dwelling on the past when they visit Durham, New Hampshire, for Wednesday Hockey East game against the Wildcats at the Whittemore Center at 7 p.m.
UMaine is 15-11-4 overall, 9-8-3 in Hockey East, while UNH is 10-14-6 and 5-10-5, respectively.
UMaine will have just three games remaining after Wednesday, all against league leader Boston College.
Over the previous two seasons, the Black Bears went 2-17-1 in February and March but UMaine already has a win this month and a pair of overtime losses.
Sophomore defenseman Patrick Holway doesn’t foresee a collapse.
“I don’t expect anything like that this year. I don’t expect us to go winless down the stretch,” he said. “This is a much different team.”
Junior defenseman Keith Muehlbauer said Maine is “a completely different team. We have a lot more leadership than we’ve had in the past. The freshmen are a lot better, it’s a lot better all-around team and we have a better atmosphere.”
“We don’t talk about what we’ve done in the past, it’s about our opportunity to do something now,” emphasized Gendron.
The Black Bears could finish anywhere from first to 10th in the 11-team league and a win over New Hampshire would sew up at least a home-ice berth for the first round of the Hockey East playoffs.
UMaine has played seven straight games that were decided by either one goal or wound up in a tie. UMaine is 3-2-2 in those games. The Black Bears are coming off a 3-2 overtime loss to nationally ranked Providence on Friday night.
“We’re headed in the right direction, especially the way we played in the game against Providence,” said UMaine junior defenseman and alternate captain Rob Michel. “For a full 60 minutes, it was one of our best games for sure. It was a playoff-like atmosphere.
“All these points matter to every team. Hockey East is so tight,” said Michel. “We expect that every game moving forward.”
There has been considerable parity in the conference.
“Every year, any team can beat another but I think, this year, the overall separation between the better teams at the top of the (standings) and the teams closer to the bottom is much slimmer,” said Gendron. “There isn’t much difference between a lot of teams so it becomes a function of playing well, your best players being your best players and being ready to compete every shift. A lot of times, in games this tight, one play can mean the difference in the game so your focus has to be that much purer. It’s exciting. That’s what makes it really fun.”
UMaine will be without one of its best players as sophomore center and co-captain Chase Pearson is sidelined with an undisclosed injury.
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