The University of Maine's Nolan Vesey controls the puck in front of the University of Connecticut's Corey Ronan at Alfond Arena in Orono in this Oct. 6, 2017 file photo. Credit: Terry Farren | BDN

University of Maine hockey players Cedric Lacroix, Nolan Vesey and Mark Hamilton wanted their senior year to be special.

The team struggled during their first three seasons as the Black Bears went 33-67-13 and never advanced beyond the first round of the Hockey East Tournament.

But the Black Bears will enter Saturday’s Senior Night’s game against Boston College with more league wins since the 2011-12 team went 15-10-2 in Hockey East en route to the program’s last appearance in the Hockey East semifinals/finals and the NCAA Tournament.

UMaine is currently 10-8-3 in Hockey East and 16-11-4. It is the most regular season wins since the 2013-14 team went 16-15-4.

UMaine, picked to finish or tied for last in both Hockey East preseason polls, have already clinched at least a home berth for the best-of-three first round playoff series by finishing among the top eight and it could also earn a first-round bye by finishing fifth or better.

UMaine will entertain Hockey East leader Boston College (15-13-3, 15-6) at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday before concluding the regular season with a two-game set at BC next weekend.

The seniors are pleased that they are helping the team begin a turnaround that will hopefully lead to future success.

“We’ve had three tough years,” acknowledged left winger Vesey. “To help the team turn things around this year means a lot. And we’ve got a lot of hockey left to play.”

“I’m very pleased,” said center Lacroix. “We wanted to help kickstart the program and leave a good legacy. We wanted to create a reason to be remembered.”

He also said he wanted to pass along some success to the younger players so they can continue to progress the program in future years.

The seniors have enjoyed their time in Orono and said the time has flown.

“It’s crazy,” said Vesey. “I remember the first year watching the seniors play on Seniors Night. And now it’s our Seniors game. I’m looking forward to it.”

Their highlights have been the relationships they have developed with their teammates and some memorable trips.

“I’ll always remember the Fenway game, the Northern Ireland trip and going to Alaska,” said Lacroix.

UMaine beat UConn at the Frozen Fenway game in Boston 4-0 last season; split a pair of games in Belfast, Northern Ireland, this season and played two games at the Kendall Hockey Classic in Anchorage, Alaska, their freshman seasons, losing to Alaska-Anchorage and Alaska-Fairbanks.

Vesey said he has “grown a lot” in his four years at UMaine.

“I have become a more complete player thanks to the coaching staff,” he said. “I have gained some speed, speed I didn’t have as a freshman.”

Vesey said his off-season training regimen has contributed to his speed boost.

He will enter Saturday’s game with 37 goals and 39 assists for 76 points in 138 career games. Lacroix has 19 goals and 19 assists in 140 games and defenseman Hamilton, one of the nation’s leading shot blockers during his career, has 3 & 23 in 131 games.

Hamilton has been sidelined for the last four games by an undisclosed injury.

There is unusual parity in the league this year and the seniors feel they have a legitimate chance to win the conference tournament and earn an NCAA Tournament berth.

“We haven’t reached our goal yet,” said Lacroix.

The Black Bears have one of the nation’s best records over the last 20 games, going 12-4-4 with two of those losses coming in overtime.

And they are looking forward to Saturday’s challenge.

“I would much rather be playing a good team this time of year than one that isn’t good,” said Lacroix. “This will be a good test for us.”

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