On the night of Nov. 12, the University of Maine men’s hockey team was 3-6-1 overall and 3-5 in Hockey East.
Six of those first eight Hockey East games were at home so it appeared as though a top-four finish and a home ice berth for the Hockey East quarterfinals wasn’t in the offing.
But the Black Bears have gone 13-2-2 since that series, 8-2-2 in Hockey East.
As they begin their final seven-game stretch of Hockey East games, the Bears have put themselves in position to earn a home ice slot.
The top five teams are separated by just three points and Maine has the fewest number of games against the other four front-runners: one.
That will take place on Saturday night when the team visits UMass Lowell after playing a Friday night game at Providence College.
“We’ve put ourselves in a pretty good spot over the past couple of months but we still have to finish strong,” said Maine senior center and co-captain Brian Flynn. “Some teams are fighting to finish in the top [four] and some are fighting to get in the playoffs. Every weekend, we’ll be playing a hungry team. We don’t have any easy games.”
Boston University leads the league with 27 points — teams are awarded two points for a win and one for a tie — and UMass Lowell is second with 26. Merrimack and Boston College have 25 apiece and Maine has 24. Maine, BU and BC each have played 20 games while UMass Lowell and Merrimack have played 19.
Maine owns the tie-breaker against BC and BU after going 2-1 against each team but it would lose the tie-breaker to Merrimack (0-2-1) and UMass Lowell (0-2).
Providence and New Hampshire have 17 points each, Northeastern has 16, UMass has 14 and Vermont has just five points.
UNH, Northeastern and Vermont have played 20 league games while Providence and UMass have played 19.
After playing Providence and UML this weekend, Maine will host UMass for a pair, visit Northeastern for two and host New Hampshire for one.
Entering this weekend, BU has two apiece with UMass Lowell, Vermont and Northeastern and one with UMass; BC has three with Vermont and two each with Merrimack and Providence; UML has three with Merrimack and two each with BU and Providence plus the one with Maine; and Merrimack has three with UML, two apiece with BC and UMass and one with UNH.
All five teams are among the top nine in the Pairwise Rankings that mimic the NCAA Tournament selection process. BU is No. 1; UML is tied for second with Michigan; BC is sixth; Merrimack is tied with Minnesota for seventh and Maine is ninth.
Maine swept Providence 5-4 in overtime and 3-1 with an empty-net goal.
“We have gone through our toughest stretch already but if we don’t bring it this weekend against Providence and Lowell, we’ll get knocked off,” said senior left wing and assistant captain Spencer Abbott.
The stretch he was referring to was in January when the Black Bears went 6-1-1 including six games against three teams ranked among the nation’s top seven: BU, BC and Merrimack.
“We’re just focusing on ourselves,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “Hopefully, we’ll get some help from some other teams but we’re not counting on it. We’re excited about the challenge this weekend. “
Junior left wing Adam Shemansky (head injury, sickness) is expected to be in the lineup this weekend but leading goal scorer Joey Diamond (hip flexor, sickness) is still questionable, according to Whitehead.