University of Maine's Rob Michel (right) checks University of Massachusetts' Steven Iacobellis into the boards during their hockey game at Alfond Arena in Orono in January 2017. Credit: Ashley L. Conti

ORONO, Maine — University of Maine junior defenseman Rob Michel, who suffered a knee injury in the first period of a Dec. 8 win over Quinnipiac, could return to the lineup as soon as Saturday night for a Hockey East contest at Boston University.

Michel, an alternate captain, has missed the last three games but he has resumed practicing and is close to returning.

“I’m pushing to get back this weekend but, if not, maybe for Monday’s game at Brown,” said Michel on Wednesday. “I don’t want to rush back and hurt it and be out for the season. It’s getting stronger every day. I’ve had a lot of rehab. I’m definitely headed in the right direction.”

Michel had three goals (two on the power play) and five assists through 15 games. He injured his knee when he was checked into the boards.

“I went into the boards funny,” explained Michel. “When it first happened, it was definitely painful. I ended up having it checked out and it wasn’t as bad as we had thought. That’s always good.”

Michel was the team’s leading point-getter among defensemen last season with nine goals and 10 assists in 34 games. He was tied for fifth in the country in goals among defensemen and his four power-play goals were third on the team. He also had two game-winning goals and a shorthanded score.

The smooth-skating 6-foot-2, 195-pound native of Camillus, New York, logs a lot of ice time and quarterbacks one of the power-play units.

The UMaine defense corps ranks second in goals in Hockey East with 14, one fewer than Boston University.

UMaine received three goals from defensemen in Saturday’s 5-2 win over Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute including one from junior Keith Muehlbauer, who hadn’t scored since the 4-3 overtime loss to Northeastern in the first round of the Hockey East playoffs on March 5, 2016.

He had gone 52 games without a goal.

“The whole bench went nuts,” said senior center and alternate captain Cedric Lacroix. “We were all so happy for him. It was great to see. He is a catalyst, defensively. We don’t expect him to produce offense, but any time he can get a goal it’s good.”

“We were joking with him,” said senior left wing Nolan Vesey. “We all know what kind of player he is and whenever he can chip in a goal like that, it’s good to see.”

“It was a lot of fun,” grinned Muehlbauer. “I’ve been playing a lot but hadn’t had anything go in for me. I got a good bounce and it ended up going in.”

Sophomore center and co-captain Chase Pearson snapped a 19-game goalless drought dating back to a 5-4 victory over Northeastern on Feb. 25, 2017.

“It was nice to get the monkey off my back, per se,” said Pearson, who was the team’s No. 2 goal scorer last season with 14 in 36 games. “I know goals come in bunches. I’m not too worried. I’m just going to keep playing my game.”

UMaine (10-7-1, 4-4-1 Hockey East) takes a seven-game unbeaten streak (6-0-1) into the BU game.

The Terriers are 8-10-1 overall (6-6-1 HE).

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