The University of Maine men’s hockey team will hold its first official on-ice practice Saturday and host defending Canadian national champion the University of New Brunswick in an important exhibition game Sunday at 4 p.m. at the newly renovated Alfond Arena.
The New Brunswick game will be Maine’s only tuneup before it plays its Hockey East openers next Friday night (7) and Sunday afternoon (1) against Merrimack and Northeastern, respectively.
Maine coach Tim Whitehead said the Varsity Reds will supply his Black Bears with a stiff challenge it needs in preparation for the Hockey East games.
“They’re a legitimate team,” said Whitehead. “If they were in Hockey East, they’d be competing for home ice (earned by the top four finishers) every single year. (UNB coach) Gardiner MacDougall does a great job with his program and I love the kids they get. They’ll be an older, more experienced team. A lot of their kids have played professional hockey. They’ll be big and strong.”
Unlike NCAA hockey, players with professional experience are allowed to play at Canadian institutions.
One of the game’s purposes will be to enable him to evaluate his talent, especially his freshmen.
“We’ll see what our freshmen are made of. We’ll get glimpses and flashes of what they could bring to our team,” explained Whitehead. “This will also be a window of opportunity for our upperclassmen who might expand their roles.
“It will also give us an opportunity to see if our goalies’ conditioning has paid off.”
Sophomores Dan Sullivan and Martin Ouellette will share the goaltending chores on Sunday and, because it is an exhibition, both teams will be able to dress extra skaters.
“We’ll have five lines (instead of four) and four sets of defensemen (instead of three),” said Whitehead.
“This will give us a chance to get in the swing of things,” said senior left wing Spencer Abbott. “We haven’t been on the ice for a real game in a while. It’s also good to have the freshmen get a game under their belts before the season starts.”
“It’s good to get back into the game atmosphere and to get back to game speed,” said junior defenseman Mark Nemec. “Everything is so much quicker once you get into a game. You can practice all you want, but at the end of the day, (it’s not the same as a game).”
Maine senior defenseman and co-captain Will O’Neill said, “It’s the first time we’ll get to suit up together for a game and play against another team which, in that sense, is a big deal. We’re going to take it like we would any college game.”
The Black Bears and Varsity Reds will get to experience the $4.85 million in renovations, including a new high-efficiency chiller system which will provide harder (and faster) ice, new plexiglas which will be a foot higher, refurbished boards, an improved electrical system and generator, a new de-humidification system and some seats that are wider and more comfortable.
The aisles will be wider, and there will be safety netting behind both nets.